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National PTSD Awareness Day

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According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), PTSD is a disorder that will affect about 7-8 out of 100 people in their lifetime. In order to bring greater awareness to the issue of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the United States Senate designated June 27th as National PTSD Awareness Day. Here are a few things you need to know about PTSD, including the warning signs to look for in your own life or the life of a loved one.

PTSD is a mental health problem that can occur after someone has been exposed to traumatic events, such as sexual or physical assault, natural or man-made disasters, and war-related combat stress.

PTSD symptoms can include:

  • Persistent, intrusive, involuntary thoughts about a traumatic event
  • Distressing dreams, nightmares or “flashbacks”
  • Triggered emotional responses to reminders of the trauma
  • Withdrawal from friends and loved ones
  • Persistent hypervigilance for cues that indicate additional danger
  • Unwarranted anger or negative changes in beliefs and feelings
  • Depression, anxiety or fluctuating mood
  • Dissociative mental experiences
  • Inability to function in daily life
  • Panic or exaggerated reaction to events
  • Insomnia
  • Inability to concentrate

When these symptoms last longer than three months, cause great distress, or disrupt a person’s work, social or home life, they are diagnosed as having PTSD. This diagnoses is treatable, but may be misdiagnosed when treatment is not trauma-informed. When this is coupled with a substance use disorder, an individual’s ability to deal with trauma is invariably compromised.

Co-occurring PTSD and Addiction

People who suffer from PTSD often turn to alcohol and drugs to provide a temporary relief from the symptoms of PTSD. It is estimated that half of all of those receiving treatment for addiction also suffer from simultaneous PTSD.

Unfortunately, the use of alcohol and drugs to manage PTSD is not a long-term solution, and often makes symptoms worse. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) warns that alcohol and drugs can delay a person’s progress in treatment or impair their ability to effectively use trauma interventions.

Because drugs and alcohol can also impair a person’s decision-making abilities, intoxication can also increase the likelihood that the person will experience trauma, such as being involved in an accident or being the victim of a physical violence or sexual abuse. Thus, substance misuse may contribute to the onset of PTSD or exacerbate an already existing condition.

PTSD, Gender Issues, and Treatment

Proper treatment for anyone facing PTSD and addiction should include evidence-based, trauma-informed curriculums that are individualized to meet the needs of every person. This includes programming that attends to gender issues while also treating other co-occurring mental of physical disorders. 

Women are much more likely to have been the victims of sexual trauma than their addicted male counterparts. According to research, as many as 80% of women seeking treatment for substance use disorders report a lifetime history of sexual assault, physical assault, or both. Comorbid PTSD rates in this population range from 30-59% with even higher lifetime rates.

While men and women suffer from trauma at nearly equal rate, rates of PTSD among women remain considerably higher. Because of the stigma associated with men facing trauma, it is possible than some men are reluctant to address their trauma with a provider. It is important that treatment for mental health addresses trauma with both genders, despite supposed norms about PTSD.

A Trauma-Informed Approach

According to SAMHSA’s (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) concept of a trauma-informed approach, “A program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed:

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.”

This approach can be coupled with trauma-specific interventions, such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), that are designed specifically to address the consequences of trauma and to facilitate healing.

Cutting-edge treatment for addiction will always take trauma and PTSD into account. This should include a thorough review of a patient’s history, ongoing psychological testing, and evidence-based therapeutic interventions. Through comprehensive, integrated treatment, recovery from PTSD and addiction is possible.

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