What You Need To Know About Complex PTSD and Addiction

June is PTSD awareness month. Both complex and noncomplex post-traumatic stress disorder have been linked to substance abuse. If you have a loved one who has experienced PTSD of any kind, then you need to know the risks, what early stages can look like, and how you can help them.

What Is Complex PTSD?

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is a psychological condition that can develop in individuals who have experienced prolonged or repeated trauma over an extended period. It is often a result of severe and chronic abuse, neglect, or trauma during childhood, although it can also occur in adults who have endured long-term traumatic situations such as captivity, human trafficking, or ongoing domestic violence.

C-PTSD is characterized by a range of symptoms that extend beyond those typically associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition to the symptoms of PTSD, which include intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, and heightened arousal, individuals with C-PTSD may experience:

Emotional dysregulation: This involves difficulties in regulating emotions, leading to intense and often unpredictable emotional responses. It can manifest as extreme anger, sadness, or fear, and individuals may struggle with emotional flashbacks where they feel as if they are reliving the trauma.

Distorted self-perception: People with C-PTSD often develop a negative and distorted view of themselves. They may experience feelings of shame, guilt, and worthlessness. They may also have a diminished sense of self-esteem and struggle with feelings of being fundamentally flawed or damaged.

Interpersonal difficulties: Individuals with C-PTSD may have challenges in forming and maintaining healthy relationships. They may struggle with trust, have difficulties with boundaries, and experience a persistent sense of isolation or detachment.

Chronic feelings of emptiness: Many individuals with C-PTSD report a pervasive sense of emptiness or a feeling that something is missing from their lives. They may also experience a lack of purpose or direction.

Somatization: C-PTSD can manifest in physical symptoms such as chronic pain, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, or other unexplained medical issues.

A Person Struggling with Complex PTSD and Addiction

How Are Substance Abuse And PTSD Connected?

The relationship between complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) and substance abuse is complex and multifaceted. While not everyone with C-PTSD will develop a substance abuse problem, research suggests that there is a higher risk of individuals with C-PTSD engaging in substance abuse compared to the general population. Here are some relevant statistics:

Comorbidity rates: Studies have shown significant overlap between C-PTSD and substance use disorders (SUDs). Research indicates that individuals with C-PTSD are at an increased risk of developing co-occurring SUDs compared to those with PTSD alone or without any trauma-related disorder.

Self-medication hypothesis: Many individuals with C-PTSD may turn to substances as a way to cope with the distressing symptoms they experience. This self-medication hypothesis suggests that substances are used to alleviate emotional pain, numb distressing memories or flashbacks, and regulate mood. Substance use may temporarily provide relief from the intense emotional dysregulation associated with C-PTSD.

Trauma re-enactment: Some individuals with C-PTSD may engage in substance abuse as a form of a reenactment of a traumatic event or self-destructive behavior. This can be a result of negative self-perceptions, feelings of unworthiness, or a belief that they deserve punishment due to the trauma they experienced.

Increased vulnerability: The cumulative effects of trauma and ongoing stress can increase an individual’s vulnerability to developing substance abuse problems. Chronic stress and unresolved trauma can disrupt the brain’s reward system and contribute to a greater likelihood of turning to substances for relief or escape.

Higher severity and chronicity: Studies have indicated that individuals with C-PTSD and substance abuse tend to have more severe symptoms, higher levels of functional impairment, and longer treatment durations compared to those with C-PTSD alone or substance abuse without trauma.

It’s important to note that these statistics represent general trends observed in research and do not necessarily apply to every individual with C-PTSD. The relationship between C-PTSD and substance abuse is influenced by various factors, including individual differences, access to support systems, and availability of treatment. Seeking professional help from mental health and substance abuse specialists who can provide comprehensive assessment and treatment is crucial for addressing both C-PTSD and substance abuse concerns effectively.

How You Can Help

Supporting a loved one with substance abuse and C-PTSD involves educating yourself about the conditions, encouraging professional help, and creating a non-judgmental environment. Promote self-care, assist with practical needs, and encourage healthy coping strategies. Set boundaries and prioritize your well-being while supporting your loved one. Encourage participation in support groups for sobriety and remember that recovery takes time and professional guidance.

If you or a loved one is looking for help treating their addiction, look no further than Drew Horowitz & Associates. Contact us now for more information.

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