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Addiction + PTSD: The Dual Diagnosis That Requires Recovery Community Support

PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can include a variety of different symptoms including sadness, isolation, grief, anxiety or overall feelings of insecurity. For this reason, it can be difficult to know when someone is suffering with this type of disorder. However, diagnosing PTSD is one of the most important steps in recovery for a person struggling with its symptoms.

Here are the most common symptoms of PTSD to look for:

  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or “on edge”
  • Having angry outbursts
  • Distorted feelings like guilt or blame
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Avoidance
  • Flashbacks – reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heartbeat or sweating
  • Bad dreams
  • Frightening thoughts
  • Rapid, or unpredictable changes in mood, and cognition

Recognizing the Signs of PTSD

The signs of PTSD can include those symptoms listed above, and also other things that may not even get your attention. While recognizing the symptoms of PTSD can be difficult, the lingering wounds from suffering from this type of disorder may be harder to address. So, it is very important that you take that first step in moving past PTSD by first recognizing the symptoms you see in a loved one. Then, you can begin the process of helping the person, and healing them.

If you are worried about someone in your life that may be suffering with PTSD and has also served in the military, the problem may be more complex. In the warrior culture of young military men and women, the idea of seeking help for PTSD is often seen as a sign of weakness, or failure. In fact, soldiers who reveal any type of depression, anxiety, or signs of trauma may fear exclusion from their peers, and simply never reveal it.

The Importance of Community in Addiction Recovery

When people are showing signs of PTSD, the first thing they need to know is that it is OK. Once they realize that they will not be left alone when they finally show their symptoms, they may be more likely to be able to gain effective treatment. Trauma-induced cases of PTSD in the military have been depicted 2,500 years in Sophocles’ drama, but over the past 100 years, this disorder has also been seen as, “battle fatigue” or “shell shock.” This type of social stigma may cause PTSD sufferers to feel isolated, or force themselves into isolation because they are not properly understood. This only pushes PTSD sufferers further away from treatment.

Today, there are many different treatment options for PTSD sufferers. However, to find the right type of approach for this disorder in someone, you may need to first talk to a healthcare professional about also adding a recovery method to the treatment plan. This may include a traditional 12-step recovery program like Alcoholics Anonymous, or a non 12-step program alternative that includes a set of sober living guidelines, self-improvement philosophy, and psychological reframing strategies.

What is most important to take away from a PTSD diagnosis is that regardless of the treatment option, community support is vital. Studies have confirmed time and time again that peer support in the form of sober living facilities, 12-step programs, and community meetings is an effective way to boost the ability to cope with the unique challenges of PTSD during recovery.1

This type of support has also been called “camaraderie through community.” And there is evidence that supports the fact that military veterans with a lack of social support from family, friends, and community may have a higher risk of PTSD. However, not just any type of group recovery meeting will do. It is important to know that the buddy system works best in all types of practices including mindfulness, exercise, volunteering, nature walking, and of course recovery. In terms of a long-term treatment, military veterans may need to find community group sessions specifically tailored for their unique needs. The VA offers evidence-based trauma focused PTSD treatments such as Prolonged Exposure (PE) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) to address people with the double diagnosis of PTSD and SUD (Substance Abuse Disorder).

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also created the National Center of PTSD to help sufferers get easy access to the services they need to appropriately assess, diagnose and treat PTSD.

PTSD Isn’t Just for Veterans

While PTSD is commonly experienced by war veterans, anyone can develop this disorder, and at any age! PTSD is commonly the result of physical or sexual assault, abuse, accident, disaster, or many other serious events. And According to the National Center for PTSD, about 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men, and genes may make some people more likely to develop this disorder than others.

Not everyone that suffers with PTSD has been through some type of horrific event. This type of disorder can occur in people of any age for a variety of reasons – even the death of a loved one. So, if you notice these symptoms of PTSD in anyone you know, even if it’s a child, consider talking to a healthcare professional immediately. There are many different treatment options that can work to reduce the symptoms of PTSD, so don’t wait to talk to your doctor about it. There are many different psychotherapies, medications, treatments and technologies available to help.

A Final Note on Addiction Recovery with PTSD

Addiction recovery is a process that happens one day at a time. However, when coupled with the symptoms of PTSD, addiction recovery can take on a new dimension. The dual diagnosis of addiction plus PTSD may require VA services to gain appropriate care, but it’s worth it! Just think about a diabetic. If they needed insulin they would appear weak, but that doesn’t really mean that they are. It simply means that the person with a disease needs their medicine to regain their strength.

So, if you feel like you, or someone you know could be suffering with addiction, PTSD or a dual problem of addiction plus PTSD don’t worry about how weak you feel, or that you failed at being a warrior. The hardest part of serving in the military happens when you get home. In order to re-train your mind for the “real world” of civilian living you will need to surround yourself with camaraderie through community. Then, seek more support from the VA, and remember to continue on with your military training: accept yourself, and persevere. Adapt to your new surroundings, and overcome any obstacle that comes your way, just as you always have. You deserve a peaceful happy life. Take it!

 

References:

  1. Kathlene Tracy, Samantha P Wallace. Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction. Subst Abuse Rehabil. 2016; 7: 143–154.

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