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Understanding PTSD and Substance Use Disorders

UNDERSTANDING PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that occurs after the victim experiences a traumatic event. The American Psychological Association describes the symptoms of PTSD which include frequent flashbacks, avoidance of triggers that remind the victim of the event, and frequent, intrusive thoughts related to the event long after it has happened. Commonly, PTSD has been a disorder frequently attributed to military veterans who have experienced traumatizing events during times of war. However, PTSD is most commonly seen in men and women who experience another person dying, natural disasters, or who have survived assault, not just those who have served in the military. Awareness of the disorder and its comorbidity with substance abuse is essential to providing those who suffer from PTSD the services and support they need, and eliminating the mindset that PTSD is only reserved to those who have served in the armed forces.

PTSD COMORBIDITY WITH SUBSTANCE ABUSE

PTSD is commonly comorbid with substance abuse disorders, such as alcohol or dependence on other addictive drugs. Those struggling with PTSD are two to four times more likely to experience substance abuse problems than those without the disorder. Substance abuse will often make symptoms of PTSD worse when those with the disorder begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms often include increased anxiety and depression, which are already common in those with PTSD.

GENETIC FACTORS

Both PTSD and Substance Abuse Disorder have genetic components. Those with family members who have experienced either of these conditions are at a higher risk of developing either disorder, and are at a higher risk of developing a substance abuse disorder if they are diagnosed with PTSD. Understanding family genetics can be the first step in ensuring victims of PTSD do not fall into substance abuse and are able to seek professional help and support for their symptoms.

For those with PTSD to recover, support and understanding are essential. Being aware of the risks that those with PTSD face and understanding it goes beyond those who have served in the military will help change the national conversation surrounding PTSD and keep those with the disorder from falling into substance abuse by providing accessible recovery options.

If you or someone you love is suffering from PTSD and using drugs and alcohol to cope, we can help.