Have you ever experienced a traumatic event that left you feeling distressed for weeks or months afterward? You could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sadly, individuals with PTSD often face the additional challenge of a co-occurring disorder, where they struggle with drug and alcohol misuse as a coping mechanism for their distressing memories and emotions. The good news is that PTSD is treatable with therapy and medication. Read on to learn more about the different types of PTSD and available treatment options, so you can start to heal and reclaim your life.
What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop in individuals who have experienced a shocking, terrifying, or life-threatening event. It manifests through persistent distressing symptoms, including flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety. PTSD can endure for prolonged periods of time, affecting various aspects of a person’s life. For some individuals, they may even turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to cope and numb their pain. However, it is crucial to understand that substance misuse tends to worsen the symptoms of PTSD rather than provide relief.
Managing PTSD symptoms can be challenging, and it is important to seek healthier coping mechanisms and a dual diagnosis program to support your recovery journey. According to research, there are various types of PTSD and applicable treatments. Knowing which type you are experiencing and becoming familiar with the DSM-5 criteria for PTSD can help you choose the most suitable and efficient treatment for your particular condition.
What are the Different Types of PTSD?
While the DSM-5 does not officially recognize subtypes of PTSD, researchers have identified distinct presentations or subtypes based on symptom patterns. These subtypes are not exclusive, and individuals can experience symptoms from multiple subtypes simultaneously. Here are some commonly recognized types:
Uncomplicated PTSD can be associated with a single traumatic event rather than multiple occurrences. It may be specifically tied to a particular accident or natural disaster, for instance. This type of PTSD involves persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic event. Therapists often find uncomplicated PTSD to be relatively easier to treat compared to other types. If you have uncomplicated PTSD, you may experience symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and mood swings.
Normal Stress Response
The term “normal stress response” is commonly used to describe the initial reaction to a traumatic event before the development of full-blown PTSD. Events such as accidents, injuries, illnesses, surgeries, and other highly stressful situations can trigger this normal stress response. With the right support from loved ones and peers and coping strategies, individuals experiencing a normal stress response can typically expect to recover within a few weeks.
Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)
While not considered a type of PTSD, ASD is a related condition that can occur in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event. ASD involves symptoms similar to those of PTSD, but occurs within the first month after the trauma. ASD tends to resolve on its own or with brief treatment in a psychotherapy program.
Complex PTSD, also known as C-PTSD, can develop in individuals who have experienced prolonged or repeated trauma, such as ongoing physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or captivity. Alongside the primary symptoms of PTSD, individuals diagnosed with complex PTSD may encounter challenges in emotional control, self-perception, and relating to others. Treatment focuses on stabilizing emotions and building coping strategies.
Comorbid PTSD refers to the presence of PTSD alongside other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, or other trauma-related conditions. When individuals have multiple disorders occurring together, it requires integrated treatment that addresses both PTSD and the co-occurring condition.
What are the Symptoms of PTSD?
Everyone experiences trauma differently. For some, the effects linger and significantly disrupt their lives. Thus, the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) vary from person to person, but they generally fall into four main categories:
Individuals with PTSD often experience intrusive thoughts, memories, or nightmares related to the traumatic event. They may have flashbacks, where they feel as if they are reliving the trauma. These intrusive symptoms can be distressing and may lead to intense emotional or physical reactions when triggered by reminders of the traumatic event.
Individuals with PTSD may engage in efforts to evade anything that serves as a reminder of the traumatic event. This can include avoiding certain places, people, activities, or conversations associated with the trauma. They may also avoid talking or thinking about the event as a way to cope with distressing memories and emotions.
Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood
PTSD can cause significant changes in a person’s thoughts and emotions. Negative beliefs about oneself, others, or the world can develop among individuals with complex PTSD. They may experience persistent feelings of guilt, shame, fear, or anger. They may also lose interest in previously enjoyed activities, feel emotionally numb, or have difficulty experiencing positive emotions.
Hyperarousal and Reactivity Symptoms
Individuals with PTSD may be in a constant state of high alertness or hyperarousal. They may feel easily startled, irritable, or have difficulty sleeping. They may have trouble concentrating or have an exaggerated startle response. They may also engage in self-destructive behaviors or be hypervigilant, constantly scanning their environment for potential threats.
If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms following a traumatic event, it is crucial to seek professional help. A qualified mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan to address the symptoms and support the healing process.
How Substance Misuse Can Worsen PTSD
Living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be incredibly challenging. Regrettably, many individuals with PTSD also face the additional burden of substance misuse. This co-occurring issue tends to worsen the symptoms of PTSD, making the recovery process more arduous. It is crucial to address both PTSD and substance misuse simultaneously to promote effective healing and improve overall well-being.
Drinking to cope with PTSD symptoms may seem helpful in the moment, but alcohol is a depressant that can intensify feelings of anxiety, fear, and sadness. It also disrupts sleep, which is essential for managing PTSD. Over time, heavy alcohol use can rewire your brain and worsen symptoms, so it’s important to seek alcohol rehab in San Diego if you notice signs of an alcohol use disorder.
Prescription, opioids, or heroin are sometimes misused to self-medicate for PTSD. While they may temporarily numb emotional pain, opioids are highly addictive and dangerous. They slow your breathing and heart rate, and overdoses can be fatal. Opioid misuse also makes PTSD treatments less effective. You can receive treatment for opioid use at AToN.
Stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine are sometimes used to boost mood and motivation. However, they trigger spikes and crashes in brain chemicals that worsen PTSD symptoms like irritability, hyperarousal, and paranoia. Stimulant misuse also exacerbates risky behaviors related to PTSD, like violence or self-harm.
While some people use cannabis to cope with PTSD symptoms, especially insomnia and anxiety, marijuana can negatively impact memory, focus, and decision-making. This can make PTSD treatments less effective and day-to-day functioning more difficult. For some, marijuana also increases feelings of paranoia and panic.
Therapy and medication, along with stopping substance misuse, can significantly improve your PTSD condition. Joining support groups and sober social connections also helps establish new coping strategies and find meaning in life again. There are many resources available whenever you’re ready to make a change.
Recovering from trauma can be tough. You may experience strong emotions like fear, anger, depression, or anxiety, as well as intrusive thoughts. During this time, it is important to prioritize self-care. Taking care of your physical and emotional needs can contribute to your overall healing process. In addition to self-care, seeking support from trusted family and friends is a valuable step.
Seek Social Support
Learning more about PTSD may be helpful if you have trouble starting conversations with others because you are unsure of what to say. This knowledge can help you communicate more effectively with others. Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or support groups that can provide understanding and support. Connecting with others who have experienced similar challenges can be particularly helpful in overcoming PTSD.
Engage in Enjoyable Activities
Participate in activities that bring you joy and promote relaxation. Engaging in hobbies, spending time in nature, practicing creative pursuits, or connecting with loved ones can help distract from distressing thoughts and create positive experiences.
Write About your Feelings
Sometimes, the intensity of PTSD emotions can be overwhelming. Expressing your feelings can be a powerful tool for overcoming PTSD. Writing can serve as a cathartic release, allowing you to express and let go of pent-up emotions. Don’t hold back; write freely and let your emotions flow onto the paper. This can provide relief and create space for healing.
What are the Treatments for PTSD?
The treatment of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) typically involves a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and support from healthcare professionals. Here are some commonly used treatments for PTSD:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of therapy that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with PTSD. It can involve techniques such as exposure therapy, where individuals gradually confront and process their traumatic memories in a safe and controlled manner.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a specialized form of therapy that helps individuals process and resolve traumatic memories through eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation. It aims to reduce the distress associated with traumatic experiences.
- Medications: Certain medications may be prescribed to help manage specific symptoms of PTSD, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or prazosin (to address nightmares and sleep disturbances). Medication should always be prescribed and monitored by a qualified healthcare professional.
- Group Therapy and Support Groups: Participating in group therapy or support groups with individuals who have experienced similar traumas can provide a sense of understanding, validation, and support. Sharing experiences and coping strategies in a supportive environment can be beneficial.
- Holistic Addiction Treatment: Our holistic therapy approach focuses on addressing addiction and its underlying causes by taking a comprehensive approach that addresses the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of an individual. These programs aim to treat the whole person rather than just the addiction itself.
It’s important to note that treatment plans should be tailored to each individual’s specific needs, and not all treatments may work equally well for everyone.
To identify the most suitable treatment approach, it is advisable to seek assistance from mental health professionals who have expertise in treating PTSD.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment at AToN
AToN Center offers Dual Diagnosis Treatment, addressing substance abuse and mental health disorders, including PTSD, through integrated and comprehensive care. With a specialized approach, we offer evidence-based therapies, personalized treatment plans, and a supportive environment. The program addresses both the addiction and the underlying mental health condition, fostering lasting recovery and improved well-being. Discover the tools and skills necessary to overcome the challenges of dual diagnosis and build a fulfilling life in recovery. Contact us today!