There is a strong correlation between mental health and addiction. Those who have substance abuse disorders (SUDs) often have a co-occurring mental health disorder that may or may not be diagnosed. If a person with an addiction has not previously engaged in therapy they should consider reaching out to a mental health counselor in case they need a dual diagnosis. Anxiety and depression are commonly associated with alcohol and substance abuse disorders. What people do not always realize is that addiction often causes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How Addiction Can Cause PTSD
There are many ways addiction can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). First, it’s important to keep in mind that those who already have PTSD are at risk for developing a substance abuse or alcohol use disorder. Those who have addictions often struggle with their mental health and turn to illicit substances or alcohol as a means of temporary relief.
Substance and alcohol abuse are not good coping mechanisms as it is easy to develop a dependence and this can lead to addiction. A person with an addiction can develop symptoms of PTSD for many reasons. The life of a person who has a substance abuse disorder is full of triggering situations that may involve the risk of personal harm or exposure to unsafe and frightening experiences.
As substance abuse progresses from mild to moderate or severe, a person with an addiction will likely have to spend more time and go to greater lengths to sustain their habit. People who have prolonged addictions are likely to face financial and legal issues. They may end up committing crimes including robbing family members in order to continue their habit. The cycle of abuse takes a massive toll on the person with an addiction, their personal relationships with loved ones and friends, and affects all aspects of their life. These negative experiences can all result in PTSD.
The memories of making poor choices, causing damage to personal relationships, causing harm to yourself and others, and a host of other reasons, can result in negative associations that lead to trauma. In order to move forward in your life it is important to learn methods to manage trauma.
Trauma-Focused Therapy Options for Addiction and PTSD
There are many types of therapy that are considered trauma-focused or trauma-informed. These range from standard Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) which has been practiced for decades as a form of talk therapy that involves a set number of sessions with a CBT-trained counselor with a goal of focusing on specific issues.
In CBT therapy, counselors work with patients to identify behaviors and thought patterns that are having a negative affect on a person’s life. Often, an individual’s perceptions are not realistic.
CBT helps patients find clarity about issues that they may not fully understand and see their experiences in a new light that provides a sense of understanding and relief. A goal of CBT is to replace negative associations with positive and healthy attitudes about how you approach situations and move through the world. These life skills can be applied to everyday life situations and provide useful tools that help those with mental health challenges feel more confident about their choices and actions.
Dialectical behavior Therapy (DBT) was initially designed for use by those with personality disorders. DBT therapy has been one of the most helpful therapies for those who struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). In more recent years, the mental health community has realized that DBT therapy techniques have utility that extends far beyond the exclusive for for those with personality disorders. This is, in part, because DBT involves a methodology that helps everyday people better organize their life.
In DBT therapy sessions, DBT-trained counselors often provide homework assignments for patients to reflect on between sessions. DBT is useful for those who need to further develop their personal skills when it comes to time management and making healthy choices. DBT is an effective treatment for those who struggle with:
- Suicidal ideation
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Alcohol and substance abuse disorders
- Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
Those who struggle with intense periods of depression and suicidal ideation are in need of therapeutic intervention to help safely manage their day to day lives. DBT can be used in tandem with other harm reduction strategies to help those who struggle with suicidal thinking and other issues that require close medical observation and supervision. Those who experience suicidal thinking should reach out for help any time they need help. No one should feel shame or embarrassment about having negative thoughts. What is important is that you take care of yourself for the sake of those in your life who need you to keep yourself alive.
In DBT therapy, counselors use integrated psychotherapy methods to help individuals learn how to accept their personal situation. DBT therapeutic techniques are designed to manage negative thoughts and behaviors and learn ways to focus on positive thoughts and take a healthier approach to day to day life.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an increasingly popular form of trauma therapy that has been determined to be effective for treating a range of mental health disorders. EMDR therapy aims to replace negative associations a person has with a traumatic event with associations that do not cause distress.
EMDR therapy can help those with PTSD unlearn and rewire their brain so that when a painful memory is recalled they do not have the unpleasant and distressing experience of reliving that experience in real time. The experience of reliving painful traumatic experiences as if these experiences are happening in the present is what we commonly refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Women, Addiction, and PTSD
Women with addictions have often had traumatic experiences that involve men. Some women with addictions may have been victims of physical or sexual violence by a male partner. In a traditional treatment program, where both men and women occupy the same spaces, it can be challenging for women to feel safe expressing themselves. Women who are struggling with PTSD or related symptoms may want to consider a gender-specific treatment program.
Women deserve to feel comfortable openly speaking about their personal experiences in a receptive and open environment. Studies show the importance of peer support in successful treatment and lasting recovery. Providing a safe space in group therapy sessions as well as general addiction treatment and recovery situations is an important aspect for ensuring that women can focus on themselves and thrive in sober life.
A woman who has experienced traumatic events and experiences as a result of her addiction may feel more comfortable working with a female therapist. Trauma-focused therapy works best when clients feel they have a positive and receptive relationship with their counselor. Providing a comfortable and secure setting for women to undergo addiction treatment and therapy helps provide more opportunities for successful recovery and long-term sobriety.