Even though around 8 million adults struggle with PTSD every year, the condition is often undertreated due to lack of awareness and stigma. That’s slowly changing as more people speak out about their struggles with mental illness like PTSD, and health care and public service workers become more informed about the signs of PTSD and resources for those who need help. In 2010, the U.S. Senate designated June 27 as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day. It is observed on June 27, every year, and the whole month of June is known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month.
At Footprints to Recovery, we’re dedicated to being a part of the ongoing conversation to raise PTSD awareness. All of our addiction treatment programs are trauma-focused and we offer treatment for veterans with PTSD and substance use disorders.
WHAT IS POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition, which can develop after you witness or experience a traumatic event.
Types of trauma that can lead to PTSD include:
- Military combat
- Acts of terrorism
- Sexual or physical assault
- Natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes
- Unexpected death of a loved one
- Accidents or injury
- Witnessing people go through trauma
The 1980s were the first time that PTSD was officially recognized as a mental health disorder. It was known as shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome before it was recognized as a medical diagnosis.
During World War I and II, people thought PTSD mainly affected veterans in combat. Today, we know this condition happens to all kinds of people no matter their age, race, gender, and sex, including families of victims, emergency personnel, and rescue workers. Some PTSD statistics:
- 60% of men experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.
- 50% of women experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.
- Around 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
- About 10% of women develop PTSD sometime in their lives.
- Around 4% of men develop PTSD sometime in their lives.
THE EFFECTS OF TRAUMA
According to the Center For Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders, trauma is defined as a psychological and emotional response to a deeply distressing event or experience.
Trauma can disrupt nearly every aspect of your life: mentally, physically, and socially. Research shows that victims of traumatic events lose a sense of control over their thoughts and feelings, and experience a profound sense of vulnerability, loneliness, and isolation.
Types of Trauma
Trauma can range from mild to severe. You can endure trauma from a one-time impactful event such as an assault. You can also experience complex trauma. This is fueled by ongoing events, typically from childhood, such as emotional abuse or neglect, poor parental relationships, and physical or sexual abuse.
Traumatic events are viewed subjectively. Everyone processes trauma differently because we all face them through the lens of something that we’ve previously experienced. Trauma reactions occur across a wide spectrum. Trauma researchers define the types of trauma as:
- Acute trauma – Usually results from a one-time, impactful event like a natural disaster.
- Chronic trauma – Exposure to several different traumatic events. For example, loss of a loved one, rape, and a car accident.
- Complex trauma – Repeated distressing events like physical and sexual abuse, emotional neglect, and unhealthy attachment styles with parents or caregivers.
POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER AND ADDICTION
There is a strong connection between addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. Both affect and fuel one another. PTSD and substance abuse are often co-occurring disorders. Experiencing any type of trauma can increase your risk for developing a substance use disorder (SUD). If you have a predisposition to addiction because of genetics, your chance of abusing drugs and alcohol to cope with PTSD increases even more.
Substance Use and Trauma
As a result of trauma, people often try to “self-medicate” with drugs and alcohol to cope with PTSD symptoms like unpleasant thoughts and emotions, fear, and anxiety. Repeated use of drugs and alcohol can lead to dependency and addiction. Studies show that individuals from childhood, to adolescence, and adulthood, who have traumatic experiences, tend to report higher rates of addiction, in addition to, anxiety, depression, domestic violence, STDs, and heart disease. According to some research, over 46% of people with PTSD meet the DSM-5 criteria for a substance use disorder. This is especially true for people who are addicted to alcohol. Women with PTSD are more likely to abuse alcohol than men, who are more likely to experience trauma.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF PTSD
People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experiences that persist even after the traumatic event occurred. Symptoms of PTSD are categorized into four groups:
- Flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts about the stressful event.
- Avoiding places, people, things, and thoughts that serve as reminders of the event.
- Having overactive startle and anger responses, and frequently feeling on edge.
- Poor memory and persistent distorted, negative, or fearful thoughts about yourself and the world.
Something ordinary such as loud noises or random touch may trigger a negative reaction. Other PTSD symptoms include:
- Feelings of sadness and anguish
- Flashbacks and nightmares
- Nausea and headaches
- Intense feelings of guilt and shame around the trauma
- Isolation and hopelessness
- Detaching or estranging themselves from others
- Memory problems around the trauma
Anyone can be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and it can last from months to years. PTSD varies from person-to-person, because everyone reacts to traumatic events differently. Not everyone who witnesses something traumatic will develop PTSD.
PTSD is diagnosed by the presence of an identified stressor or traumatic event followed by symptoms that last a month or more following the event. It’s evaluated by the level of intensity and the duration of distress.
The intensity, duration, and frequency of PTSD symptoms vary greatly. The best measure for assessing the kind of PTSD treatment is to determine the level of disruption you’re experiencing. If trauma is severely impacting your ability to function in everyday life and contributing to destructive behaviors like substance abuse, inpatient or an intensive outpatient treatment program may be the best route. Studies show that trauma-focused treatment that includes therapies such as cognitive processing therapy (CPT), prolonged exposure (PE), and trauma-focused CBT can significantly reduce PTSD symptoms.
PTSD AND CO-OCCURRING CONDITIONS
Many mental health disorders occur simultaneously with PTSD, because of significant changes caused to the brain’s overall chemistry and function following a traumatic event. People with PTSD may experience depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, or substance use disorders.
The most common co-occurring disorders with PTSD include:
- Depression disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Substance use disorders
Effective PTSD treatment must address the trauma as well as co-occurring disorders. Depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse are sometimes triggered by PTSD. Evidence-based PTSD treatment will help you address underlying issues of PTSD and learn to cope with difficult feelings and experiences in healthier ways.
How to Raise PTSD Awareness
PTSD awareness has come a long way in the last few decades. There is still work to be done. When there is more PTSD awareness and less stigma around the condition, people may feel more comfortable getting the help they need. The National Center for PTSD notes the following ways to raise PTSD awareness:
#1 Participate in PTSD Awareness Month
June is PTSD Awareness Month. During the month, The National Center for PTSD has several educational events to participate in as well as ways to get the word out about PTSD and PTSD treatment like sending out mailers for PTSD that you can download from their website; social media profile images about PTSD treatment, stories, and videos to share on social media; and other PTSD outreach opportunities.
#2 Understand PTSD
The National Center for PTSD offers many ways to inform yourself and loved ones about PTSD and PTSD treatment such as courses, reading materials, videos, and stories.
#3 Support PTSD Awareness Organizations
There are several ways to support organizations with missions around PTSD awareness and treatment. On the National Center for PTSD’s website, you can fill out a pledge to raise PTSD awareness, download a PTSD awareness toolkit, or just reach out to organizations that support PTSD awareness to see how you can help.
#4 Encourage a Loved One to Get Help
Some people may not recognize the symptoms of PTSD or they may be ashamed to admit they need help. If someone in your life is struggling with trauma, encourage them to talk to a behavioral health professional. Educate them on the signs and symptoms of PTSD and the prevalence of the problem. Point them to resources that can help them get better.
Footprints to Recovery Treats Addiction and Trauma
If you or a loved one is struggling with trauma and substance abuse, don’t wait to get help. Left untreated, substance abuse and mental health issues can become more debilitating. Footprints to Recovery offers trauma-focused treatment that includes proven approaches like EMDR, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and neurofeedback. Our treatment plans are tailored to each patient’s needs and goals, and we offer a full continuum of care that includes:
- Medical drug and alcohol detox
- Residential treatment
- Partial hospitalization program (PHP)
- Intensive outpatient treatment
- Outpatient program
- Sober living residences
Give us a call today to learn about our treatment programs and how we can help you or a loved one recover from addiction and trauma.