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Types of Substances Abused by Individuals with PTSD

Types of Substances Abused by Individuals with PTSDAn individual with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may experience panic, anxiety, rapid breathing and an elevated heart rate because of overwhelming memories of traumatic past experiences. These negative feelings may trigger in them a powerful need to escape the present moment. For a large number of people with PTSD, escape means drinking too much, smoking too much or drug abuse.

Traumatic Events and PTSD

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that occurs after a person experiences trauma, such as a serious accident, war or threatened assault. While PTSD is commonly associated with veterans of war, it affects many women who are victims of domestic abuse. During a lifetime, 10 percent of women and 4 percent of men will receive a PTSD diagnosis, according to the latest National Comorbidity Survey (updated 2007).

Substance Abuse and PTSD

PTSD sufferers are often paralyzed by memories of traumatic events and many of them withdraw from social activities or avoid events that might trigger negative memories. Research on the substance abuse rates of PTSD sufferers varies.

When PTSD and substance abuse co-occur, it is common for individuals to abuse drugs like cocaine and heroin, according to research led by Lisa Najavits, PhD, of Harvard Medical School. In a 2002 study, “Clinicians’ Views on Treating Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Use Disorder,” published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, researchers estimate 34 percent of individuals with PTSD have co-occurring substance use issues—the rates are as high as 59 percent for women.

The National Center for PTSD, a division of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), estimates rates of co-occurrence of PTSD with substance abuse could be as high as 50 percent. In addition to treating drug addictions and binge drinking, the department recommends assessing rates of tobacco usage. Veterans who smoked before suffering from PTSD tend to smoke at much higher rates after experiencing the disorder.

Addiction Treatment and PTSD

There are effective treatments for PTSD that occurs along with treatment for addiction. The National Center for PTSD recommends seeking therapy for both disorders at the same time. Talk therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, and medications like anti-depressants, can effectively treat both disorders.

Need Help Finding a Program for PTSD and Substance Abuse?

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