Science Uncovers Possible Link Between PTSD and Addiction

link between PTSD and addiction

The physical, emotional, and mental trauma that many people in the military go through is unimaginable for those who have not experienced it. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs when your present life is affected by trauma that you went through in the past. Though any trauma can cause PTSD, veterans are the group that most frequently struggles with it. Research has found that people struggling with PTSD are more likely to also struggle with addiction problems. There’s a link between PTSD and addiction.

PTSD and Addiction

Studies have shown that more than half of PTSD patients struggle with addiction, usually drug or alcohol abuse. One clear explanation for this is that the drugs and alcohol are a coping mechanism and the intoxication serves to distract the person from the trauma they are reliving. However, this is just one level of the relationship between PTSD and addiction.

A recent study by the Society for Neuroscience revealed another possible explanation. The study shocked rats’ feet, serving as the trauma, and tracked their responses to reminders of the incident. When the idea is transferred to human PTSD patients, the result revealed that traumatic memories can predispose people to addiction by making them more sensitive to the rewarding effect of drugs. The impact that PTSD has on a person’s brain in turn makes them more receptive to different kinds of drugs and the high that they can produce.

EMDR Therapy for PTSD

One of the ways that people struggling with PTSD can fight addiction and their PTSD is through Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR). Some studies have revealed that as many as 80 percent of people struggling with PTSD are twice as likely to struggle with sanity at some point in their life because of the stress that they have experienced. EMDR therapy focuses on combating this stress, facilitating how a person accesses traumatic memories. The goal is to separate the traumatic memory from the distress associated with it so that the person can think of the trauma without experiencing the distress.

For centuries, people have believed that intense emotional pain takes a long time to heal, sometimes longer than intense physical pain. EMDR aims to show people that the mind can heal as quickly as the body can. Some studies about EMDR show that 84 to 90 percent of the people suffering PTSD from a single trauma no longer have PTSD symptoms after three sessions of 90 minutes. Over 100,000 medical professionals around the world use EMDR and millions of people have seen positive effects over the past 25 years.

The Phases of EMDR

Successful EMDR treatment involves paying attention to the past, present, and future. The therapy progresses through an eight-phase approach:

  1. In the first phase, the therapist focuses on learning about the patient’s past, specifically the trauma that is plaguing them. The therapist then develops a plan based on how ready the patient is for the treatment. Together, the therapist and the patient talk about possible memories and situations that could be causing emotional distress.
  2. Phase two centers around the therapist ensuring that the patient has a variety of strategies to cope with emotional distress that they can use between EMDR therapy sessions.
  3. During phases three through six the therapist and patient target a traumatic memory and process it using EMDR. EMDR processing includes the patient identifying three things:
  • The visual image related to the memory
  • A negative belief about themselves, and
  • Any related emotions and sensations

The therapist will have the patient focus on the three aspects while engaging in EMDR processing activities. This will occur in sets. After each set, the therapist will ask the patient to describe whatever thought, feeling, image, memory, or sensation they are experiencing and use that to choose the next focus of attention.

  1. In phase seven, the patient will be instructed to keep a log each week that documents anything related to the EMDR trauma.
  2. Phase eight marks the beginning of the next session. The therapist will examine the progress that the patient has made thus far with their trauma and determine how to move forward.

Mindfulness Practices Also Help Disconnect Past Trauma from the Present

Another strategy that has helped many veterans struggling with PTSD is mindfulness. Mindfulness is having awareness of the present moment and accepting it without judgment. Though no concrete studies have proven that mindfulness is an effective treatment of PTSD, the emotional and mental impact that it can have has led many researchers to believe that it would be effective. Improving mindfulness could help someone struggling with PTSD with engagement, preparation, rumination, and compliance. There are many different types of mindfulness practices that could influence PTSD, some of which include:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy
  • Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention

Think Twice Before You Talk to Military Service Personnel

From the outside, a man or woman in uniform personifies strength, stability and resolve. Now that you have a better idea as to the battles that can transfer from active duty into the passive mind, consider the tone and language you use when communicating with our military. They deserve the extra thoughtfulness.

If You or Someone You Know Is Struggling with PTSD or Drug Addiction, Ask How EMDR Can Help

Melanie SternAuthored by Melanie Stern, Content Director for Scottsdale Recovery Center, Arizona Addiction Recovery Centers and Cohn Media, LLC. Writer and broadcaster covering the following industries: addiction rehab, health care, entertainment, technology and advocate of clear communication, positivity and humanity at its best.