The human mind is amazingly resilient, helping humans deal and cope with practically all sorts of things, from the mundane concerns of everyday life to events that bring significant stress.
There are times, however, when an experience is simply too severe to process, and the mind is unable to cope with it. This is when post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sets in, and it is a serious disorder that requires quite a bit of therapy to deal with it.
If not addressed promptly or properly, people tend to find other ways to deal with the condition, such as substance abuse. This is why many are afflicted with PTSD and addiction at the same time.
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What Is PTSD and Why Do People Get It?
There are events that happen in life that could be too much for the mind and body to properly process and recover from. It could be a physical injury that was so severe that it continued to cause problems even when it healed. It could also be an experience that was so intense and stressful that it had a profound effect on the mind.
These intense events and experiences may have caused trauma at the time, and because it was not addressed properly, there was never any real and complete recovery from it.
While there are generally accepted events that most do agree to be quite disturbing, trauma is something that is quite personal in nature. What one person finds to be traumatic could be something another one could handle well enough.
Some events, however, are truly horrendous on such a scale that they will affect most people. These include:
War and other forms of combat
Physical, verbal, or sexual assault
Detention or imprisonment
Rejection or abandonment
Lingering health issues
Loss of a loved one
Medical studies reveal that at least one in three people who experience a traumatic event is likely to develop PTSD. These studies, however, still fail to isolate a general reason why people develop PTSD, or why some get it while others don’t.
There are, however, some theories about why people develop it, based on specific events experienced by people who developed PTSD:
Studies suggest that PTSD could be a form of instinctive preparation. An unconscious safety mechanism that forcefully recalls the traumatic event so that the person becomes better able to deal with it should it happen again.
Scientists believe this is why the type of memory associated with PTSD tends to be jarring and forceful when it comes back, as opposed to other forms of recall. Scientists, however, also note that not everyone benefits from this safety mechanism, as not everyone is able to process repetitive recollections of traumatic events.
Abnormal Production and Release of Adrenaline
While some feel depressed and unable to move when they experience PTSD, others are all nerves and are highly strung, mostly because of very high adrenaline levels.
The stress response that people are equipped with, that instinct that governs fight or flight, is directly connected to the body’s production and usage of adrenaline. Adrenaline triggers excitement and anxiety in the body to prepare it for action, and if this were to happen more regularly than it should, then it could be quite stressful.
The hyperarousal response, that feeling of being “on edge,” heightens the sensitivity of a person to the point that they become jittery and jumpy, even at the slightest thing. This hypersensitivity is one of the classic symptoms of PTSD.
The hippocampus is the part of the brain largely associated with anything to do with memory and emotional associations. Neurological studies done on people suffering from PTSD show a large number have a hippocampus that is smaller than average.
It is believed that because it is smaller, it is underperforming, and as such, certain intense memories are not processed properly. Memory associations with fear and anxiety might not be processed properly as well, which could be why combat veterans have vivid nightmares of the battles they fought.
Normally, the brain helps “soften” the trauma of events by lessening the emotional response to specific memories. A malfunctioning or underperforming hippocampus might prevent these intense memories and emotional associations from diminishing.
What Are the Types of PTSD?
As PTSD remains quite elusive and nebulous in form, studies into its causes and permanent solutions for it continue. To help deal with PTSD, a classification system based on the associated treatment has been established for it:
While there is nothing normal about PTSD, as it is a disorder that affects the natural human stress response, this classification deals with the stress response derived from intense experiences and events like accidents, illnesses, injuries, and other sources of significant tension and anxiety.
This type is that which could be effectively managed with the help of a supportive family, friends, loved ones, or peers found in group therapy. The average recovery period for this type is typically within a few weeks.
Certain events, such as life-threatening instances, the death of a family member, loved one, or friend, natural disasters, or major loss, could lead to acute stress disorder. This type causes constant emotional stress on the person, as the mind recalls the source of the stress repeatedly.
This disorder is usually dealt with either by individual or group therapy, and for the more severe cases, medication-assisted therapy and tailored treatment by a psychiatrist.
This type of PTSD stems from exposure to multiple events that caused major trauma to the person. This usually arises from repeated domestic abuse, war, exposure to intense violence such as terrorism, and other instances where the trauma is compounded by multiple sources.
Therapy for this type requires comprehensive treatment, and because of its inherently sensitive nature, individual therapy is usually advised.
A huge number of people living with PTSD try to find relief from their troubles wherever they can, and the sad reality of it is that they usually find it in substance abuse.
Comorbid PTSD is actually a blanket term for a stress disorder co-occurring with another disorder, as is the case with PTSD and addiction.
How Is Co-occurring PTSD and Addiction Treated?
Co-occurring addiction and PTSD are most commonly seen in combat veterans, and as such, these people receive trauma-focused treatment, usually combined with cognitive processing therapy (CPT). There is, however, a growing number of cases of these two disorders co-occurring in regular, everyday people.
This burgeoning problem is mostly associated with relevant healthcare not being accessible to the person, or a general lack of interest in getting well on the part of the afflicted. If more people knew that effective treatment is on hand for co-occurring addiction and PTSD, and if this treatment is available to them, perhaps more people would willingly get into it.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, has proven to be quite effective in dealing with the issue of co-occurring PTSD and addiction. This is because this approach delves into how the perception of a problem directly affects the response of the person to it.
This method also takes into account the fact that not everyone is fortunate enough to have the correct perception of the problem, or even the correct association of their response to the problem. Many people know that a problem will not be solved by creating another problem, but many are not able to properly appreciate that trying to numb their minds to the problem, usually through substances, will not solve anything.
CBT seeks to correct the response a person usually arrives at when confronted by the troubles of PTSD, as this response usually involves drugs or alcohol. CBT does this by making the person understand that some “solutions,” as they perceive them, are actually harmful rather than helpful.
CBT also seeks to help people develop better coping mechanisms for troubles they encounter, as these troubles are often a part of life. The breakthrough in this method is in making the person realize that using substances to avoid their issues makes things much worse.
Trauma and Addiction Recovery
At Chapters Recovery Center, we don’t just bank on the latest theories and studies regarding therapy and treatment.
We also rely on what we have experienced as the best way to help people recover, which is attentive care, proper treatment, and a medical staff willing to go the extra mile to ensure that the patient achieves true recovery.