Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Addiction & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Combat veterans, war victims and abuse survivors all have traumatic memories. When these memories dominate and cause problems with your ability to handle daily life, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be at work. PTSD can be tough to deal with, and many people turn to drugs or alcohol to handle the nightmares, flashbacks and insomnia that can occur with PTSD.

If your drinking or use of drugs is related to a traumatic event in your past, or you can link it to something that happened a long time ago that you’d prefer to forget, you may have both PTSD and addiction. It’s not uncommon, and it’s very treatable at 12 Keys.

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Helping Someone With PTSD and Addiction

Don’t wait to help someone with PTSD and addiction issues. Addiction only gets worse over time, not better. If you or someone you love is having trouble with drugs or alcohol and post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s time to get help.

At 12 Keys, we offer a comfortable, safe environment to get well. You’ll receive personal attention and time to heal from bad memories and the effects of addiction. Individual and group counseling, as well as EMDR therapy and other forms of therapy, are all available to help you process trauma and heal.

There's nothing to be ashamed of if you suffer from PTSD. If someone you love is having problems coping with a traumatic event, and they turn to drugs or alcohol to feel better, it’s a cry for help — not a weakness. Give 12 Keys a call and speak with an admissions counselor today to get the help you need.

PTSD and Addiction: The Link

PTSD remains a hidden problem. Many people don’t understand how to deal with it, and people who admit having PTSD often face a lot of criticism. For example, if you tell someone you’re still having nightmares after being mugged, they may say something like, “At least you weren’t hurt.”

treatment for ptsd and addiction

This minimizes the trauma you’ve experienced, making you feel as if you shouldn’t still feel scared. It adds shame to the mix. Now, not only are you experiencing PTSD symptoms, but the other person has shut you down and made you think that your feelings weren’t acceptable. It’s no wonder so many people with PTSD turn to drugs and alcohol to make themselves feel better!

Both drugs and alcohol negatively affect people with PTSD. Alcohol and certain drugs affect serotonin, the brain chemical previously mentioned as being somehow different in people with PTSD. When you take drugs or drink excessively, your brain may produce more serotonin, which makes you feel better temporarily.

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it makes you feel sleepy. This can temporarily help people with PTSD sleep through their nightmares or fall asleep if they’re having trouble nodding off. It can also relax them when they feel tense and anxious. Because more alcohol is needed to produce these effects over time, addiction can result.

PTSD and addiction disorder occur together frequently. Approximately 30 to 60 percent of women in treatment for substance abuse disorder also suffer from PTSD. Studies show that their PTSD is most frequently caused by physical or sexual abuse people suffer as children. Many men in treatment also have this dual diagnosis of PTSD and substance abuse disorder.

Which Comes First? Trauma or Substance Abuse?

One of the curious details that emerged from the study of both PTSD and substance abuse disorder is that it doesn’t matter which came first: The two end up together over time. PTSD can predispose people to substance abuse, and abusing substances can lead to traumatic events turning into PTSD.

PTSD Signs and Symptoms

Do you show these PTSD signs and symptoms?

  • Re-experiencing the trauma: Flashbacks, bad dreams and distressing thoughts may all be part of re-experiencing the trauma. In the previous example with Sue and Joan, Sue may have nightmares about the fire. She may have sudden flashes of anxiety in enclosed spaces, feeling trapped if a fire should break out, even though that’s very unlikely. All of these are her brain’s way of re-experiencing and trying to process the trauma of the bad fire she was trapped in.
  • Avoidance symptoms: Nobody wants to feel frightened or bad all the time. If you keep re-experiencing trauma, you may try to avoid the people, places or things that trigger a flashback. For instance, if you were raped in an elevator, you might avoid elevators. If you were beaten as a child in the basement of your house, you might avoid basements. One important avoidance symptom to note is numbing the feelings. This is why many people turn to drugs or alcohol. It numbs the bad feelings and memories, helping you avoid them.
  • Hyperarousal: Hyperarousal means being constantly jumpy. You’re always on high alert, ready to react if something bad happens. The problem is that over time, you’re going to be exhausted from always being on alert.

What Is PTSD?

Although PTSD was first identified in World War I, it wasn’t officially recognized until 1980 when the Diagnostic Standards Manual (DSM) — the guidebook for psychiatric diagnosis — included PTSD as an official diagnosis. Originally called “shell shock” or “battle fatigue,” PTSD was first noticed among war veterans who relived traumatic experiences in nightmares, flashbacks and night terrors. Gradually, the diagnosis expanded to include anyone who had trouble processing traumatic memories.

what is ptsd

Over 70 percent of the population in the United States has suffered from some kind of trauma. Trauma is defined as a traffic accident, sexual assault, or physical or sexual abuse. Other types of trauma can include witnessing a horrific accident or death, being caught in a terrifying situation such as a fire or natural disaster, or experiencing the horrors of war.

The DSM-III defines a traumatic event as “a catastrophic stressor” and “outside the range of normal human experience.” This broadens the definition to include many events that can lead to PTSD.

Today, doctors know there are many situations that can cause PTSD. Take a look at the following list of possible PTSD-causing situations. Have you experienced any of these?

  • You were beaten, sexually assaulted or otherwise hurt constantly or consistently during your childhood.
  • You grew up in a volatile home with one or both parents addicted to drugs or alcohol.
  • You were raped, sexually assaulted or battered at some point in your life.
  • You experienced a violent assault or attack, such as being mugged or harmed in some way.
  • You were in a bad car accident or another type of accident, such as an accident at work.
  • You witnessed one of the events above but weren’t able to help stop it.
  • You served in the military or as a fireman, policeman, doctor, nurse or EMS worker and witnessed many violent, horrible things over a long period.
  • You were caught in a fire or natural disaster, such as a tornado, earthquake or flood.

Any one of these events can lead to you developing PTSD.

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What Causes PTSD?

While doctors aren’t quite sure yet what causes PTSD, they do know significantly more about it today than they did in 1980 when it was first recognized as a psychiatric disorder.

First, a traumatic event doesn’t always cause PTSD. Two people can be involved in the same event and react differently to it. How each person reacts and processes the trauma determines if it leads to PTSD or not.

what causes ptsd

For example, Joan and Sue both live on the 20th floor of a high-rise apartment building when a fire breaks out on the 18th floor. For a few minutes, they are trapped on the 20th floor, unable to escape down the fire stairs because of smoke and flames licking at the walls. A fireman appears and leads them past the blaze to safety, and both women escape unharmed. After the building is deemed safe, both women return to their apartments.

Sue has nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks every time she settles down to sleep in her apartment. She feels as if she can’t relax. When she sits down to watch television, she braces herself as if the fire alarm will go off again. She finds herself checking the stairwell at least once a day to reassure herself it’s clear.

Joan also feels anxious when she returns to her apartment, but she’s reassured by the fire department’s certification that the cause of the blaze was a neighbor on the 18th floor smoking in bed. It wasn’t caused by an electrical problem in the building, but by human negligence. The building owners asked that neighbor to leave, so she feels that the threat is gone. She installs new smoke alarms. After a few nightmares, she is fine.

What’s the difference between Joan and Sue? Doctors believe that both genetics and psychological resiliency play an important role in how people react to traumatic events — and whether or not they develop PTSD.

Among the possible causes of PTSD, doctors have identified the following:

  • 5-HTTLPR gene: The 5-HTTLPR gene controls the levels of serotonin in the brain. An inherited defect in this gene is believed to cause anxiety and depression, as well as predispose people to develop PTSD more easily than others.
  • GRP: GRP (gastrin-releasing peptide) is a chemical the brain releases during traumatic events. Scientists think the genes that control the release of this chemical may be different in people with PSTD than in others.
  • Stathmin: Stathmin is a protein the brain produces that controls the fear response. In experiments with mice, those that produced more stathmin tended to be more timid and fearful. It’s possible that people produce different amounts of stathmin, and people who make more of this protein may be more prone to developing PTSD than others.
  • Psychological resiliency: Resiliency refers to how you bounce back after events. It can also refer to how you frame an event so that it makes sense in your life. People with strong psychological resiliency bounce back more easily after trauma than others. Resilience develops over time, and people can react to the same event differently if experienced at different points in their lifetime. For example, an event that would be traumatic for you at age 15 may be less traumatic at age 50.

The 12 Keys Model offers a practical yet personal approach to treating PTSD and addiction. If you’d like more information, contact us to learn how we can help you.

Overcoming PTSD & Addiction with 12 Keys Rehab

Living with PTSD isn’t easy, but at 12 Keys Rehab we help you manage the symptoms so that they eventually become minimal or nonexistent. Treatment consists of appropriate therapies like EMDR and Cognitive behavioral therapy to help you become stronger than the memories that haunt you.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you reframe the traumatic event so that you feel more in control. One of the ways that psychologically resilient people recover quickly from trauma is by feeling that they took an active part in managing it. People who feel more in control of a bad situation are less likely to develop PTSD later on. Going back in your mind to the situation and reframing it with the help of our therapists may offer you better insights into how you can handle future events. You will feel more in control and less anxious and afraid.

Another effective therapy 12 Keys Rehab has seen much success with is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). During EMDR therapy, our therapists evaluate your symptoms and help you rate scary emotions or feelings that occur with traumatic memories. As you re-experience the bad feelings, your therapist will lead you through a series of new eye motion patterns that change how the brain processes the memories. Your brain will relearn how to store these bad memories so that they do not come back to haunt you at every occasion.

While it sounds unconventional, it works well to help people quickly and effectively change the patterns of thought that keep them locked into PTSD. We offer EMDR therapy at 12 Keys as part of your recovery program because so many of our clients have experienced life-changing success from the treatment.

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Our goal at 12 Keys Rehab is to make your journey toward recovery as seamless as possible by removing obstacles which otherwise might stand in your way.

We will cover the cost of prescriptions as well as all meals, activities, and most incidentals, including the gym.

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PTSD Statistics

PTSD isn’t unusual, but given that about 70 percent of the population has experienced some sort of trauma, it’s surprising how many people don’t develop PTSD. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the following PTSD statistics reflect the general population and demonstrate that while not common, it’s not uncommon, either.

  • 7.7 million Americans age 18 and older suffer from PTSD.
  • People exposed to mass violence get PTSD more frequently than those exposed to natural disasters. For example, 67 percent of people who witness a mass violence experience PTSD.
  • People exposed to previous violence develop PTSD more frequently than those who face trauma for the first time.

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Recovery at 12 Keys

Recovery from PTSD and addiction is possible, and we’ve seen the miracles that occur in people’s lives here at 12 Keys. You can experience that, too. With the right therapy and intervention, you can quit drugs and alcohol and live a sober life again.

The first step is to call 12 Keys. We have someone who can speak with you 24/7. With personalized treatment plans and effective therapies, we can help you, or someone you love, get back on your feet again.

Still curious about PTSD and its relation to drug addiction? Check out this informative infographic:


ptsd and addiction recovery

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