The National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (NCPSD) has designated June as PTSD Awareness Month. The idea for this particular month is so that we can help those in need by working together in raising PTSD awareness.
What is PTSD?
PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder; an anxiety condition that develops after extremely traumatic events. Most common events are;
- military combat
- intense emotional or physical distress
- crime, accident
- natural disaster
This mentally debilitating condition has also known as shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome.
What are the PTSD Symptoms?
Symptoms often begin three months after the event has occurred and may last months or even years. The severity and duration of the condition may vary primarily based on many individual and situational factors. Some known or unknown triggers can bring back distressful memories which often lead to intense emotional and physical reactions. People with PTSD often relive the traumatic events through intrusive and uncontrollable memories, flashbacks, and nightmares. Although people try to avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma, these unwanted feelings can surface when least expected. The anxiety is so overwhelming, and intense their lives become disrupted.
The four main categories of PTSD symptoms are:
- Reliving the event through flashbacks, hallucinations and nightmares
- Avoiding places people or situations that trigger memories of the traumatic event.
- Increased arousal that can include:
- emotional hypersensitivity
- relational problems
- emotional difficulties
- sleep disorder
- mood disorders
- other genuine physical symptoms
- Cognitions and mood symptoms that lead to negative thoughts. Beliefs about one’s self and the world around them.
The goal of treatment is to reduce the symptoms that cause emotional and physical distress. Improving basic daily functioning can significantly help the person better understand and cope with the traumatic event. Treatment needs to be multi-faceted and include psychotherapy, as well as medication.
The most common drugs prescribed to treat PTSD is antidepressant medications, which also helps control feelings of anxiety and its associated consequences. Mood stabilizers and atypical antipsychotics are also sometimes used. Even blood pressure medication can be part of the treatment. More and more, experts are discouraging the use of benzodiazepines because studies have not shown them to be as helpful as previously thought, plus they carry a high risk for dependence or addiction.
PTSD and Addiction
Studies show that those who suffer from PTSD, especially when not properly treated, are between two and four times more likely to also suffer from drug addiction. The National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) states that the condition will affect about 7-8% of the population in their lifetime. High levels of emotional stress can make a person to turn to substance abuse as a means of escaping those painful feelings; self-medicating.
In the beginning, alcohol and drugs are great tools to increase pleasure, decrease anxiety, and provide a distraction from painful emotions. The issue is that what first works as a solution, rapidly becomes an additional problem.
When PTSD and addiction co-occur, it is essential to get treatment early. Detox is often the first step, followed by the assistance and guidance of a mental health care provider. A combination of supportive emotional care and pharmacological therapy is generally the best route to reach a level of physical stability. The good news is that there is help and treatment works!