Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Abuse

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a condition that affects many people. It is the highly anxious, crippling and invasive recollection of memories of a physically or psychologically traumatic events that go beyond normal responses. Normal responses to a traumatic experience include fear, depression, obsession with the event, fear, nightmares and feelings of numbness. People tend to deal with these feelings and reactions and within days or weeks they will move on. Individuals who suffer with post traumatic stress disorder are unable to move on with their lives and will continue to have these reactions for months and years after the event. Their reactions are abnormal.

Post traumatic stress disorder sufferers may experience flashbacks, intrusive and upsetting memories of the event, they will feel crippling distress and fear when reminded of the events that may interfere with their daily life. They will often suffer from panic attacks and nightmares and the stress on their body and mind will take its toll. Individuals with PTSD may find that their lives begin to change. Relationships may break down, they may have problems with their work, they may have chronic insomnia, unhealthy eating habits, minor illnesses and begin to use drugs or alcohol as a way to deal with their PTSD.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Abuse Problems

Estimates put people who have post traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse problems in the range of 30-50 per cent of people in formal drug and alcohol treatment. Post traumatic stress disorder sufferers often self-medicate their problems with alcohol and/or drugs. This may be to dull the memories, fears and thoughts about the traumatic experience, or as a form of self-punishment for perceived wrongdoings. Initally, alcohol and drugs may be used to help a person forget the traumatic experience, to help them sleep, stay away or to enjoy themselves when they feel they can’t. They may be encouraged by friends or family to relax with a drink, a smoke or a pill. But the positive effects are short lived, alcohol and drugs wear off but the memories will continue to trouble a person.

Alcohol and drugs may in fact magnify issues for a post traumatic stress disorder sufferer. People may become more violent and aggressive, depression may be stronger and some drugs may simply increase the amount of paranoia, anxiety and fear someone has. Drugs and alcohol may also make people more likely to take risks. Statistics show that people are more likely to be in traffic accidents, get into fights, assault spouses and participate in criminal activities or engage in high risk activities such as unprotected sex or sharing of needles if they have been using drugs or alcohol. This can lead to bigger, more serious problems such as illness, injury, unwanted pregnancy, family problems, economic problems, incarceration and sometimes death.

Development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post traumatic stress disorder can occur when a person sees, experiences or is part of a traumatic experience. The experience could be a motor accident, sexual assault or rape, bullying at school or workplace, violent crime, robbery, natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake, being assaulted or witnessing an assault, kidnapping or terrorist attack. Returned soldiers, police officers, security officers and firefighters may be more likely to have post traumatic stress disorder than other professions. Jails and prisons can also cause PTSD.

Most people will encounter traumatic experiences in their lifetime, but less than 10 per cent will develop [clinical post traumatic stress disorder. Development of PTSD may be able to be avoided if treatments such as counseling can be offered as a standard procedure to victims or after a traumatic experience. Emergency services workers, returned soldiers and police officers can potentially reduce their risk of developing post traumatic stress disorder by entering formal counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy. Early intervention and risk targeted interventions, such as for victims of sexual assault or rape, has been found to be reduce the risk of post traumatic stress disorder.

Treating PTSD and Substance Abuse Problems

When co-occuring disorders are diagnosed, prioritizing the most important or severe condition to treat first can be problematic. For individuals who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and have a drug or alcohol addiction, the addiction is often what prompts an intervention or treatment, but the post traumatic stress disorder is the issue at the core. The addiction likely occurs because post traumatic stress disorder is untreated.

Treating the physical dependence is often the first step for individuals suffering these co-occurring disorders. Detoxification may include medical intervention or hospitalization. After detoxification it is possible to offer treatments for the co-occurring disorders. Treatment can include any number of cognitive or behavioral therapies, psychotherapy, motivational enhancement therapy or group therapy.

Psychedelic PTSD Treatment

Psychedelic therapy involves the use of psychedelic or psychoactive drugs as a therapeutic tool in the treatment of chronic and difficult conditions such as alcoholism and post traumatic stress disorder. Psychedelic therapy is only approved for a handful of practitioners who use psychoactive drugs such as LSD, MDMA and ketamine in their treatment. The goal of any therapy is to encourage, support and enable a person to discuss their problems in a non-judgmental way. Psychedelic psychotherapy uses drugs to break down some of the barriers people may be unable to over come and helps people relive intense, frightening and debilitating memories without fears and anxieties.

Early studies have shown statistically significant improvements for post traumatic stress disorder sufferers with MDMA therapy. MDMA has been found to have therapeutic value as it can temporarily reduce anxieties and fears which can block progress in treatment. This unblocking can help individuals gain access to their emotions, issues and internal conflicts without the overwhelming sense of fear that is normally associated with the memories.

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