In fact, approximately, 60-75% of those who abuse drugs or alcohol also have a mental illness. It might not come as a surprise to know that substance abuse addictions and PTSD (as well as other mental illnesses) often go hand in hand. You might be able to imagine that someone experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety or the mood swings of Bipolar Disorder might want to quell those uncomfortable feelings with drugs or alcohol. Having both an addiction and a mental illness is known as a co-occurring disorder. It’s also known having a dual diagnosis.
Treatment Addressing Addiction and Mental Illness
Although the mental illness might be the cause for the use of drugs and a developing addiction, it’s often difficult to determine which came first: the substance use or the mental illness. It could be the other way around as well. Sometimes, the risky behavior that comes with alcohol or drug abuse can lead to experiencing a traumatic event, such as a car accident or witnessing violence or even experiencing a significant injury. Nonetheless, no matter which came first, the addiction or the PTSD, treatment must thoroughly address the addiction and the mental illness.
In fact, if you’re a recovering addict, it might be helpful to learn about the symptoms of PTSD. It’s possible that drug treatment can provide this sort of information, especially because there are so many addicts who also have a mental illness. However, interestingly, many people, whether they have suffered from an addiction or not, might not realize that they have PTSD until they learn about it. For this reason, it could be helpful to learn about the diagnosis of PTSD to help uncover whether you experience its symptoms.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), PTSD is a mental illness experienced by someone who has experienced a traumatic event, and who is experiencing symptoms of anxiety as a result. The DSM outlines symptoms that include flashbacks, bad dreams, and frightening thoughts. An individual might also exhibit symptoms of avoidance, such as staying away from certain places to avoid reliving the traumatic experience or forgetting the experience entirely. Symptoms of PTSD usually continue until a safe, therapeutic investigation of the traumatic event takes place and the individual is able to process and integrate the intense feelings associated with the trauma.
However, often what happens instead is that a person begins to drink or use drugs as a way of quelling those feelings. For instance, one man named Robert described a situation in which he began to drink right after his father died. He admitted that the death of his father was traumatic and that he needed to use the alcohol to help protect himself from the difficult feelings. He wanted to hide from those feelings. It wasn’t until later in his life, after six years of drinking and using heroin, that he finally decided to stop. Robert’s use of drugs and alcohol was not only because of the death of his father, but he also experiences a mild form of schizophrenia. Robert was also using substances to help manage his symptoms.
It’s clear that there is a significant relationship between substance abuse and mental illness, including PTSD. For this reason, many drug treatment centers are including mental health services that not only address the addiction, but also treat mental illnesses such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and even Bipolar Disorder. Often, those participating in a residential drug treatment center are not only meeting regularly with a drug counselor, but they also meet with a therapist, and if needed, a psychiatrist on a regular basis. A therapist can address the underlying issues that may be contributing to the mental illness and the addiction, while a psychiatrist can prescribe psychotropic medication to help manage symptoms.
It’s important that someone struggling with an addiction and a mental illness at the same time get treatment for both. Fortunately, more and more residential drug treatment centers are equipped to do just that.