The efficacy of PTSD treatment while treating addiction

Half of those who seek treatment for addiction meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD. So, does the concurrent treatment of PTSD and/or past trauma positively affect the treatment of substance use disorders? How? We review here.

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There is a significant need for treatment of co-occurring posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction. In fact, approximately half of individuals seeking addiction treatment meet current criteria for PTSD, and individuals with co-occurring PTSD-addiction tend to have poorer treatment outcomes compared with those without such comorbidity.

So, what is PTSD treatment and what does it look like? Can you treat PTSD symptoms while recovering from addiction? More on PTSD treatment while treating addiction here, with a section at the end for your questions.

What is PTSD treatment?

You don’t have to try to handle the burden of PTSD on your own. Treatment can help you regain a sense of control over your life. The primary treatment for past trauma is psychotherapy, but often includes medication. Combined, psychotherapy and medications can also help you if you’ve developed other problems related to a traumatic experience, such as depression, anxiety, or misuse of alcohol or drugs.

Some of the more common forms of PTSD treatment include:

  • Congnitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Family Therapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Medications like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Prolonged Exposure (PE) Therapy
  • Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

What is the outcome of PTSD treatment?

Combining psychological and pharmacological treatments can help improve symptoms, teach you skills to address triggers, help you feel better about yourself, and learn ways to cope if any symptoms arise again. Treatment goals for PTSD usually focus on the following:

  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Develop trust/personal relationships
  • Identifying and changing maladaptive coping behaviors
  • Identifying triggers
  • Separating traumatic memory from debilitating emotion(s) associated with it
  • Treating psychobiological responses

Still, your treatment program will be customized to your own needs. Not every person with PTSD will have the same treatment goals. When you begin therapy, you will work with your psychotherapist to decide together what goals you hope to reach in therapy. For example, you might choose to focus on any of the following:

  • Learning the best way to live with your symptoms
  • Learning how to cope with life problems
  • Reducing PTSD symptoms

A good therapist helps you decide which of these goals seems most important to you, and s/he should discuss with you which goals might take a long time to achieve.

What is PTSD treatment like?

Psychotherapy is the most effective treatment for PTSD. Psychotherapy usually involves meeting with your therapist once a week for up to four (4) months. You should feel comfortable with your therapist trust that you are working as a team to address problems. Sessions are usually one-on-one and can last for about 1-2 hours.

It can be difficult to talk about painful situations in your life, or about traumatic experiences that you’ve had. Feelings that emerge during therapy can be challenging. Talking with your therapist about the process of therapy, and about your hopes and fears in regards to therapy, will help make therapy successful.

Does PTSD treatment work to treat addiction?

Yes, the treatment of PTSD helps to resolve addiction and substance use disorders. The two conditions are highly related. When trauma goes untreated, people turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. So, when underlying trauma can be dealt with differently, the need to use substances can be replaced with healthier alternatives.

When simultaneously addressing both disorders, patients learn to cope with their previous traumas and to handle situations that may remind them of the event. In this way, the patients learn how to better control or avoid such situations. Because research shows that both substance use and trauma increase endorphins activity, opioid receptor blockers may be a useful part of treatment for PTSD.

How effective is PTSD treatment for addiction?

PTSD treatment concurrent with treatment for addiction has been shown to be highly effective. Evidence shows that in general people have improved PTSD and addiction symptoms when they are provided treatment that addresses both conditions. These approaches can help you gain control of lasting fear after a traumatic event. This can involve any of the following (alone or together):

  • Behavioral couples therapy
  • Individual or group cognitive behavioral treatments
  • Medications
  • Psychological treatments for PTSD

Still, there is need for continued investigation of treatments for PTSD that are delivered in conjunction with addiction treatment to identify those that are likely most promising. Although there is promising emerging data on the utility of exposure-based interventions for PTSD-addiction, there is still a great need for further work in this field.

Lastly, there is a strong need for further testing of medications to treat co-occurring PTSD & addiction. Medications that effectively treat these two co-occurring conditions could provide relief to patients unable to find a therapist proficient in empirically supported treatments for PTSD. However, similar to the benchmark needed for the tests of psychosocial interventions (ie, within-group improvements does not necessarily constitute evidence that the treatment is effective), well-designed medication treatments must involve a placebo control condition to demonstrate that a medication produces a substantially larger decrease in symptoms than simple abstinence from alcohol and drugs.

What are the benefits of PTSD treatment?

The main benefit of PTSD is renewing your joy for life.

By identifying issues related to PTSD, you can start to resolve the non-accepted past and let go of things that were stopping you from having joyful life. You will focus on examining and challenging thoughts about the trauma. By
changing your thoughts, you can change the way you feel.

PTSD treatment will further help you reduce guilt and understand issues of responsibility for the unpleasant event that happened. Another benefit of treatment is that you will learn coping techniques to reduce PTSD and prepare to handle future stressful situations. The therapy will also reduce the risk of accidental exposure to specific triggers and stressors. Treatment helps you understand what you went through and how the trauma changed the way you look at the world, yourself, and others.

PTSD treatment while treating addiction questions

Do you have any additional questions about the efficacy of PTSD and addiction treatment? Please share your opinion or write us your questions in the comments section below. We will try to respond you personally and promptly.

Reference sources: VA: PTSD Treatment
Mayo Clinic: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
NIH: The Role of Uncontrollable Trauma in the Development of PTSD and Alcohol Addiction
National Center for PTSD: PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans
VA: Understanding PTSD treatment
NIH: Treatment of Co-occurring Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Use Disorders
Treatment Goals for PTSD
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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