It is usual in the case of addiction to be followed by mental illness or vice versa. The link between the two may not be fully understood. What researchers know is that there is a definite causal link. Often people who suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also develop substance abuse issues. Treating someone who suffers from both of these serious diseases is a serious challenge for mental health and addiction professionals. New research is bringing them together with new hope for a treatment plan that can help patients cope with PTSD while becoming sober.
PTSD is a serious condition that arises after a person experiences severe trauma. The trauma may be something that the patient experienced directly or only witnessed happening to someone else. The sufferer can take a PTSD self-test for diagnosis. In the past, PTSD has been called shell shock or battle fatigue because the disorder is common among veterans who have seen war. Other events that can trigger PTSD include the unexpected death of a loved one, physical or sexual assault, or a natural disaster. These types of occurrences cause feelings of anger, fear, nervousness, and guilt. In those who develop PTSD, these feelings persist and increase in intensity.
Symptoms of PTSD can set in within a few months of a traumatic experience, but in some cases, they may not show up until years later. Sufferers of PTSD often relive the triggering event through flashbacks, nightmares, and uncontrollable thoughts and memories. They also tend to avoid people and situations that bring back feelings of the event. This leads to isolation and detachment. Strong emotions are also characteristic of this mental disease, and developing an addiction to alcohol or drugs is not unusual.
Traditional Treatment Strategy
The traditional view of treating a patient with both PTSD and substance addiction is to work on recovery from addiction first. Professionals in the mental health field have long believed that it was necessary for the patient to get clean before being treated for PTSD. The treatments for the mental illness were thought to be likely to cause the patient to relapse, so being firmly in recovery was preferred. This method presented its own problems, though. It is tough for someone with untreated PTSD to get clean and to remain sober for any length of time.
The reason it can be so difficult for patients being treated for PTSD to give up their substance abuse is that the methods are very difficult to take. Although a variety of treatment techniques may be used for patients with PTSD, the most common and useful one is called exposure therapy. This involves the patient reliving the traumatic event intentionally and being put in situations that cause strong feelings of anxiety. In other words, the patient is expected to confront his traumatic event, which can be tough to do while also giving up drugs or alcohol. With the previously held beliefs about PTSD treatment overturned, addicts who also have a mental illness now have hope for working on both issues at once and for finding permanent peace.