Stress and trauma are two of the most damaging and transformative influences a human being could ever experience, and according to a 2022 report from the American Psychological Association (APA), at least 76% of adults in the United States admit they have experienced health issues brought on by unmanaged stress from the past month alone.
2022 Statistics from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), on the other hand, revealed that around 6 out of every 10 men and 5 out of every 10 women will experience at least one form of trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in their lives.
While trauma ranks slightly lower than stress in the affected number of people, it is believed to cause greater emotional and psychological damage. This is why many are seeing a direct link between PTSD and substance abuse, as people who suffer from it are desperately seeking treatment.
At Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery in Nampa, Idaho, our addiction specialists and mental health counselors are experienced in providing comprehensive treatment for people suffering from PTSD and substance abuse.
While people might not experience daily events that are significant enough to be called traumatic, they are certainly exposed to a good deal of stress during the day. In many cases, the stress could be too much to process or handle, which is why people turn to outlets they believe would help in venting their pent-up stress.
Sadly, many people turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of stress relief, and they soon discover that what started as a simple stress reliever is now a full-blown substance use disorder (SUD).
In the case of traumatic events, for many people, all it takes is one traumatic event to scar them emotionally or psychologically that they turn to alcohol or drugs to help them cope with the terrible effects of trauma on them. In many cases, these people are not even aware that it was the trauma that made them heavily dependent on alcohol or drugs.
People who survived a significant event in their lives that left them dealing with chronic pain, such as those who had an accident, often develop a heavy dependence on the painkillers that they use to mitigate the ordeal they suffer. Even if these people did not suffer any psychological damage from the experience, they still developed a need to use painkillers in amounts that could very well qualify as substance abuse.
It is not uncommon for people who experienced significant trauma to develop a substance use disorder, as evidenced by the huge number of American war veterans who ended up being alcoholics or heavily hooked on drugs. The trauma these people experienced is too much for them to process on their own, and while there are active efforts from the armed forces to help veterans, sometimes it simply isn’t enough.
The kind of trauma that these veterans suffered left most of them in a state of persistent paranoia, anxiety, fear, and even depression. Combined with the difficulty in readjusting to peaceful life after their tour of duty, many veterans prefer to simply drown their misery in alcohol or be constantly in a state where their sober minds won’t have to deal with the horror and violence they saw while in combat.
Trauma that pushes people into substance abuse is not limited to people from the armed forces. Many victims of domestic abuse prefer to drown their sorrows in alcohol or drugs rather than risk further trouble and the possible stigma of having to confront their history of being abused.
The trouble with trauma is that it tends to sink deeper into the subconscious the longer it is left unaddressed, and the deeper the trauma sinks, the less likely they are to have the strength and willingness to seek help for it.
Much like the myriad differences one mind could have compared to others, people perceive and react to stress differently. Regardless of the different nuances that stress may have on different people, there are generally five types of stress disorders that plague people, including:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a disorder that is characterized by inexplicable and repetitive feelings of fear, great worry, and persistent tension. This type of anxiety is believed to be the most prevalent among people based on their description of what it’s like when they get an anxiety attack. This can be treated through adventure therapy at Eagle Creek.
The feelings of worry and tension typically come with physical symptoms such as including restlessness, always feeling on edge, frequent fatigue, difficulty in concentrating, persistent muscle tension, and disruption of sleep patterns.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) released a report in 2022 stating that at least 4.7% of American adults experience a panic disorder event at one point in their lives. This figure was significantly higher during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when people were forced into lockdown inside of their own houses.
Panic disorder is characterized by unpredictable, repeated, and persistent episodes of intense fear. These episodes are typically accompanied by physical symptoms including:
- Chest pains
- Shortness of breath
- The sensation of being smothered
- Feeling faint
- Sensation of choking
- Abdominal pain
- Numbness or tingling of extremities
- Sensations of intense cold or heat
- Profuse sweating
- Violent shaking or tremors
It is not uncommon for someone having a panic attack to feel so overwhelmed that they think they will have a heart attack. The panic attack could be so intense that people would shake or tremble so violently that they drop whatever they were holding, or even lose their footing and fall. This often results in injuries that need to be treated later on.
Also known as social phobia, this disorder is characterized by overwhelming and excessive feelings of self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Social phobias are usually associated with only one type of situation, such as a fear of speaking in public settings, or fear of eating or drinking with a crowd of people, or a fear of being approached by strangers. Although there are cases where people may have such a severe social phobia that they have an anxiety attack anytime they are around any number of people.
Many people know about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) mainly because of its prevalence among war veterans or people who have seen great violence, such as members of the police force. People who experienced trauma in the past, or continue to experience violence or abuse daily, such as victims of domestic violence, could also develop PTSD.
PTSD has a tendency to become deep-seated if not addressed promptly, which is why people who have it react with great fear, anger, or sadness when exposed to something relevant to their trauma. It is no secret that many who have PTSD also develop a substance use disorder such as benzo addiction as a way to deal with the emotional and mental turmoil they feel.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by repetitive, unwanted thoughts that lead to the development of an obsession. Another aspect of this disorder is acting out repetitive behavior which then develops into compulsions. It is not uncommon for people with OCD to have both obsessions and compulsions that they are unable to control.
People with OCD are often unable to inhibit or prevent themselves from acting out on these obsessions and compulsions, even if it leads to felonies or even outright crimes.
Co-occurring disorders in this case, substance abuse, and PTSD is commonly diagnosed in war veterans, as they try to find a way to drown out the anxiety that they feel brought on by the trauma. This is mostly because they either have no access to trauma-focused treatment, or they are not willing to seek it out themselves.
For those who do receive treatment, the most effective approach used by therapists to help people with co-occurring PTSD and substance abuse is cognitive behavioral therapy, as it has techniques that allow the person to isolate and address the troublesome thoughts and behavioral patterns that both feed their anxiety and their need to indulge in substance abuse.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT center in Idaho, has proven to be quite effective in dealing with the issue of co-occurring PTSD and addiction as this approach delves into how the perception of a problem directly affects the response of the person to it.
This method also takes into account the fact that not everyone can perceive the actual root of the problem or even make the correct association of their response to the problem. This is important to note because people with PTSD who try to drown it out with alcohol or drugs are trying to solve a problem by creating another problem. In the case of war veterans, they believe that by numbing their minds to the problem, it just might go away, at least for a while.
CBT seeks to help the person arrive at a correct response when confronted by the emotional and psychological stress brought on by PTSD. This starts by removing the option of alcohol or drugs as a response to the problem. CBT does this by making the person understand that some “solutions”, as they perceive them, are harmful rather than helpful.
Unlike DBT for substance abuse, cognitive-behavioral therapy seeks to help people develop better coping mechanisms for any problems they might encounter, which is a far better tactic against these troubles than trying to avoid confronting them by getting high or drunk.
The mistakes of the past are never easy to solve or even admit. This is why these things need careful processing, a lot of time, and ample support to fully recover from. This is at the heart of what we do here at Eagle Creek Ranch, where we deal with the issue of trauma and co-occurring substance abuse the way it should be dealt with.
With evidence-based approaches, careful assessment, and a good deal of support, you’ll be on the road to recovery. Contact us today to get started.
Kendall Maloof is the clinical director at Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has held multiple leadership roles before settling here at Eagle Creek. Kendall received her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in 2016. Her career in mental and behavioral health began in 2014 when she took up internships in both the nonprofit and for profit sectors. She interned at multiple reputable companies, such as The Living Success Center and 449 Recovery in California.
In 2019, Kendall became the clinical director of Sunsets Recovery for Woman, a dual diagnosis program in southern California. Kendall is a natural leader. She has an incredible ability to problem solve and stay calm in any situation. Kendall never fails to show up when she is needed, and her calm demeanor makes her team and clients feel at ease. Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery is proud to have Kendall as our clinical director.