Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Systemic Disorder

In the field of addiction treatment, it is quite common for those seeking help to have experienced trauma in some form or another. Traumatic events have a way of changing individuals in several ways, which can have a dramatic effect on the course and health of one’s life. The most serious, or most discussed cause of trauma and the condition that it often leads to post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD for short) is that seen or felt in armed conflict.

PTSD is a serious mental health condition. Left untreated, the disorder can wreak serious havoc both mentally and physically. Post-traumatic stress is not a new problem, in our own nation’s history you can find reports of PTSD going back to the Civil War. But, at that time the debilitating disorder went by a different name. Young boys coming home from the war who seemed to have left their souls on the battlefield were said to be experiencing melancholy. A significant number of veterans, having been left to their own devices to cope with symptoms on their own, found it too difficult to manage. Opting to drown their sorrows in alcohol or take their own life.

Traumatic events refer to the extreme stress that overwhelms a person’s ability to effectively cope. This may leave a person fearing death, psychosis or isolation. It may handicap the individual emotionally, physically and cognitively. The traumatic event usually includes abuse of power, betrayal of trust, entrapment, pain or loss. Some examples are rape, home invasions, sexual abuse, child abuse, natural disasters and war.

PTSD Side Effects

While the disorder is generally associated with the pangs of war, trauma can result in a number of ways. Both physical and emotional abuse can lead to the development of PTSD. Serious injuries from car accidents or the sudden loss of a loved one can have lingering effects for years to come. The point being, there is not just one way to develop the disorder, which affects around 7 to 8 percent of the U.S. population at some point in their life, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

In the field of addiction medicine, naturally, we focus on treating people with PTSD who also have an alcohol or substance use disorder. Whether the addiction came first or the PTSD, it is vital that both are treated, if recovery is to be achieved. However, the development of addiction due to self-medicating one’s symptoms is not the only health problem that can arise. There are many comorbidities that researchers have associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a new study published in the Medical Journal of Australia. The research team found:

“The higher frequency of comorbid physical conditions suggests that PTSD be conceptualized not as a purely mental disorder, but rather as a systemic disorder.”

The researchers found that people living with PTSD were more likely to have:

  • Gastrointestinal Conditions
  • Hepatic Conditions
  • Cardiovascular Problems
  • Respiratory Issues
  • Sleep Disorders

Effectively treating PTSD is difficult; doctors and scientists continue to look for new methods of treatment. The research suggests that treatment may be more effective if both the psychological and physiological aspects of the condition are addressed.

“The limited effectiveness of evidence-based psychological interventions in people with PTSD, particularly in veteran populations, highlights the need to develop biological therapies that address the underlying neurophysiological and immune dysregulation associated with PTSD,” says Prof. Alexander McFarlane, director of the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies at the University of Adelaide.

Drugs And Alcohol Make It Worse

Fact: the clear majority of Americans with any form of mental health disorder do not get the treatment they require, including people with PTSD. As a result, it falls to individuals to try and mitigate the symptoms they are experiencing. Drugs and alcohol are the obvious choices.

While substances may help ease one’s pain initially, continued use leads to tolerance, dependence and addiction—and a co-occurring disorder is born. In turn, drugs and alcohol serve to worsen the symptoms of the mental illness, and now both PTSD and addiction need to be treated. Without help, the prospects are usually grim.

If you or a loved one is self-medicating post-traumatic stress, please contact Family Recovery Specialists. Our highly-trained staff fully understands and is qualified to treat co-occurring disorders, offering an individualized approach to substance abuse and mental health treatment.

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