Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder that is typically caused by a severe traumatic experience, or a set of traumatic experiences. The American Psychiatric Association reports that PTSD affects over 3.5 percent of American adults, and that only one out of every 11 adults who suffer from PTSD will be officially diagnosed. The traumatic experiences that might spurn this specific disorder include a personal physical or sexual assault, a major accident, a natural disaster or engaging in active combat. PTSD has been around for quite some time, but it was not until relatively recently that psychiatric professionals understood its true implications. After World War I, PTSD was known as “shell shock” – after World War II, it was known as “combat fatigue.” It was clear that those in the military were coming home after combat changed to some degree. They were dissociative, prone to intense shifts in mood, prone to violent outbursts, prone to drinking excessively. But why? In short, because they were suffering from unresolved trauma. While PTSD is extremely common amongst combat veterans, this disorder can affect anyone who has lived through trauma. Individuals who struggled with this specific psychiatric disorder will experience a wide range of symptoms, including disturbing thoughts and feelings relating to the traumatic experience that last far beyond the experience itself.  These thoughts and feelings are often disruptive to their day-to-day lives, and result in interpersonal consequences, problems at work, and a general lack of motivation and direction. It is important to note that while all diagnosable cases of PTSD involve some degree of trauma, the traumatic experience does not necessarily need to have happened to the individual directly. If an individual finds out about the death of a spouse or parent, for example, developing the symptoms associated with PTSD is entirely possible. If you believe that you are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, it is essential that you seek professional psychiatric care immediately. Those who do not seek help are liable to develop serious alcohol-related disorders, which will only work to worsen symptoms and make life even more unmanageable.

Symptoms of PTSD

The American Psychiatric Association also suggests that there are four main categories under which PTSD symptoms fall into, though symptoms will vary in severity on a person-to-person basis. The four categories are as follows:

  • Overwhelming negative feelings and intrusive negative thoughts. These negative thoughts and feelings usually present themselves as low self-esteem and low self-worth. Individuals who suffer from post traumatic stress often think of themselves as undeserving. They might think, “I’m a bad person. If I wasn’t a bad person, this wouldn’t be happening to me.” These feelings are often prompted by shame and guilt. The negative thoughts might also be directed towards others, and they may present themselves in the forms of mistrust and skepticism. “No one can be trusted.” This often leads to isolation and detachment.
  • Flashbacks of the traumatic event. Flashbacks are often unexpected and crippling, bringing the PTSD sufferer back to the feelings they experienced when the event first occurred. They can also be tied to a specific person, place or thing – for example, an individual who suffered trauma at the hands of a devastating motor vehicle accident might experience flashbacks when getting into a vehicle. Flashbacks can also occur in the form of nightmares, which lead to disrupted sleep patterns and insomnia.

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  • Reactivity. Those who are struggling with unresolved trauma will often act out in a variety of ways. They might experience anger, and act aggressively at inappropriate times. PTSD sufferers are prone to violent outbursts as well. They might pick fights at a bar for no reason, or become physically abusive towards a spouse or child.
  • Avoidance. Those suffering from unresolved trauma will frequently go to great lengths to avoid things that might trigger adverse symptoms like flashbacks. Avoidance can be severely detrimental to overall quality of life. Say, for example, a woman is struggling from PTSD resulting from a sexual assault like rape. She may actively avoid men in general, leading to a host of problems in every aspect of life, from her professional life to her interpersonal relationships.

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Alcoholism and PTSD

One of the most common symptoms of post-traumatic stress is alcohol abuse. In many instances, those suffering from unresolved trauma will turn to alcohol as a way to self-medicate and alleviate disruptive and emotionally strenuous symptoms. It is important to understand that while alcohol may work to temporarily ease racing thoughts and some destructive behaviors, it will only exacerbate symptoms and make them worse (and more difficult to treat) in the long run. While it is extremely common for those who have experienced trauma to develop an alcohol use disorder as a result, it is also possible for alcoholism to lead to PTSD. Drinking excessively causes lowered inhibitions and an increase in risk-taking behavior. Traumas like motor vehicle accidents can occur when a driver gets behind the wheel while intoxicated; traumas like sexual assault can occur when an intoxicated individual finds him or herself in a situation that would have otherwise been actively avoided (going home with a stranger, for example).

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Shockingly, up to three quarters of individuals who have lived through a traumatic experience will develop an alcohol abuse disorder – 75 percent. Excessive drinking is more common amongst those that have sustained lasting injuries as a result of their trauma (combat veterans for example). Gender also plays a significant role. Women who experience trauma are nearly three times as likely to develop a drinking problem, and men who experience trauma are twice as likely. It was also reported that up to 80 percent of Vietnam Veterans struggle with an alcohol related disorder of some degree once returning home from combat. Clearly, the two disorders go hand-in-hand. For this reason, dual diagnosis treatment will be essential to long-term recovery. At Immersion Recovery Center, many of our addiction specialists are cross-trained to treat unresolved trauma. Additionally, we have licensed psychiatrists on staff to thoroughly and effectively help those struggling with co-occurring mental health issues.

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    PTSD – Facts and Statistics

    Below are some interesting and informative facts and statistics regarding PTSD and alcohol abuse:

    • According to an article titled “Self-Medicating Is a Risky Form of Self-Treatment for PTSD” by Matthew Tull, PhD, certain symptoms of PTSD are linked to the abuse of specific substances. For example, hyper aggression is linked to alcohol abuse, because alcohol is a depressant and works to calm the central nervous system. Of course, alcohol also spurns aggression in some.
    • Amongst those who suffer from PTSD, 46 percent will simultaneously struggle from a drug addiction or alcohol use disorder.
    • It is estimated that between 10 and 30 percent of veterans suffer from PTSD.
    • Between 6 and 8 percent of American adults struggle with PTSD.
    • Those with an official diagnosis are up to 14 times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder.
    • Some people are genetically prone to developing both disorders (alcoholism and post-traumatic stress).
    • Those who drink heavily and suffer from unresolved trauma are also more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and inpatient hospitalization.
    • Those with PTSD are more likely to experience financial issues, relationship problems, legal problems and medical issues.
    • A common side effect of unresolved trauma is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). DID is also known as multiple personality disorder, and is characterized by the maintenance of at least two separate personalities (though most sufferers will experience more than two).

    Immersion Recovery Center and PTSD/Alcoholism Recovery

    The truth about PTSD and alcoholism is that the two coincide more often than not. Fortunately, there is help available. At Immersion Recovery Center, we treat those suffering from unresolved trauma and alcoholism. Our team of compassionate and experienced staff members is equipped to treat both disorders thoroughly and effectively, paving the way for a lifetime of fulfilled recovery. To learn more, give us a call today.

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