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PTSD and Co-Occurring Disorders

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PTSD and Co-Occurring Disorders

Traumatic experiences can stay with us—at times reverberating in our lives for months, for years, or even for decades. In some cases, an experience of trauma can be so acute that it leads to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. This is a serious and diagnosable clinical condition, and its implications are numerous. Foremost among them: Those who suffer from PTSD have a much higher risk factor for developing other co-occurring disorders, which might include substance use or eating disorders.

Defining Trauma

PTSD is often associated with combat experiences, which is not inaccurate: War and violence are traumatic, and PTSD is a common condition among military veterans. However, it is important to note that PTSD can also develop as a response to other forms of trauma, including the trauma of physical or emotional abuse.

The precise diagnosis for PTSD encompasses several factors. Most notably, the individual must have experienced fear, horror or helplessness by the traumatic experience. PTSD can manifest with a number of symptoms, among them nightmares, flashbacks, inability to talk about the event, insomnia, anger and inability to concentrate. Sometimes PTSD can mirror some of the symptoms of depression, with the individual losing interest in activities that once held great passion, and unable to see a viable future.

Trauma and Co-Occurring Disorders

There is a clear clinical link between PTSD and eating disorders. One study found that roughly 74 percent of women being treated for an eating disorder had experienced trauma, with over half meeting the criteria for PTSD.

Substance use disorders have also been linked to trauma. According to the National Center for PTSD, roughly two in 10 veterans who have PTSD also have a diagnosable substance use disorder.

However, what connects these disorders together? The answer lies in the individual’s desire to escape from trauma—to become numb to it, and to create distance from those haunting memories. Both substance use and eating disorders can accomplish this, providing relief and putting some distance between the individual and the horrific past event.

Clinicians have noted that someone with an eating disorder, for example, plays the role of both the abuser and the abused—reenacting pain and torment on the body and mind, but also maintaining a sense of control over it.

Similarly, the National Center for PTSD notes that those who have PTSD use drinking or drug use as coping mechanisms—ways to self-medicate. The question is, what hope is available to those struggling with these co-occurring disorders?

Hope for Recovery

The first thing to emphasize is the need for dual diagnosis care. It can be all too easy to focus on the symptoms of the addiction or the eating disorder, and neglect the true underlying concern—that is, the PTSD. Dual diagnosis care will ensure that all disorders are addressed. Clinical intervention is then required, and must be multi-faceted—cognitive intervention, experiential, affective and behavioral.

Through clinical intervention, trauma and co-occurring disorders can be treated, resulting in lifelong freedom and recovery. The first step is to seek help. If you or someone who know has dealt with a traumatic event, reach out to a dual diagnosis recovery center right away.

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