Trauma, PTSD, and addiction are often linked. Trauma is understood as a mental or physical injury that happens in an abnormal way and/or is outside the victim's control. When we think of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) we often think of war and combat, but trauma which occurs outside of combat is much more common than we may think.
Trauma can be interpersonal in nature. Adverse childhood experiences (ACE) is a term used to describe every type of childhood trauma such as losing a parent, abuse, or other traumatic experiences. Studies have found that those who experience ACE have a higher risk of addiction. These addictions can be behavioral addictions such as compulsive eating, compulsive sexual behavior, gambling, or substance and alcohol abuse.
PTSD is a diagnosable condition that can arise as a result of exposure to a traumatic event or continuous abuse that takes place over time. PTSD has a wide range of mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms.
PTSD is a well-known risk factor for both alcohol and drug use. It is thought that people with PTSD are motivated to use drugs and alcohol in order to escape from the distressing symptoms. Intrusive flashbacks of the traumatic events or debilitating anxiety and depression may lead some to try and reduce these symptoms with substances such as drugs or alcohol. Self-medicating with shopping, pornography, video games, or working too much are other coping mechanisms that can become harmful to one's health or relationships.
Some think that PTSD can only be effectively treated when the addiction has stopped. This means that someone who has an addiction as a coping mechanism from PTSD symptoms needs to detox and get help for addiction, before addressing the PTSD symptoms. However, others argue that when trauma is the cause of the addiction, then the trauma must be addressed in order to stop the addiction. Others believe that trauma therapy and addiction treatment should be done at the same time.
It is important to understand that self-medicating with drugs and alcohol does not help PTSD. In fact, substance abuse and other addictions can make your symptoms worse and increase the risk of depression, anxiety, suicide, relationship problems, or deteriorating physical health.
Working with a therapist trained in trauma therapy and addiction can help you reduce your PTSD symptoms and take back control over your addiction and your life. In order to pursue a healthy and happy life, it is critical that you learn to cope in a healthy way. Therapy can not only bring you back from your PTSD symptoms, but it can also support you to develop an empowered way of living, placing you on a path to greater wellbeing.
About the author: J.D. Murphy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Master Addictions Counselor practicing in Pineville, Louisiana. If you would like to learn more, visit https://jdmurphylmft.com.
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