Just last week our nation celebrated Memorial Day, the official start of the summer season, and a Monday off from work. While many people look forward to Memorial Day as a three-day weekend, it is important we continue to recognize the impactful meaning for this holiday.
Memorial Day began in 1968 as a day to remember those who lost their lives in military service, celebrate their sacrifice to our country, and recognize the family and loved ones they left behind.
PTSD and Veterans
As we recognize those who died in service for our country, it is also important to acknowledge those who are still living that have made great sacrifices on our nation’s behalf.
As of 2014, June has been recognized as PTSD Awareness Month, shining light on our American veterans who did not lose their lives, but still suffer from the trauma of war.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, up to 30% of veterans who served in the Vietnam War have had PTSD in their lifetime, and 20% of those who served in the Iraq war have experienced post traumatic stress.
It is these shocking statistics that have brought PTSD into the public light, but it is important to recognize that post traumatic stress occurs beyond the scope of war.
The Wide Scope of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
While we most often think of PTSD in the veteran community, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can occur in any person who has experienced a traumatic event. It is true that trauma is often caused by war, but it can also be caused by events such as rape, divorce, abuse, illness, torture, bereavement, etc.
While many people are able to heal from the initial symptoms caused by their traumas, those suffering from PTSD experience debilitating symptoms long after the initial trauma occurs.
As reported by PTSD United, 8% of Americans, or 2.4 million people, are suffering from PTSD. If you are shocked by these statistics, you will be even more taken aback to know that this is the number of people who are suffering at this exact moment.
On average, a whopping 44.7 million Americans will experience PTSD during their lifetime.
Did you know that 70% of adults have experienced a traumatic event? When you consider these statistics from PTSD United, it is easier to understand why so many people suffer from PTSD.
In fact, 20% of those who experience a traumatic event will go on to develop a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It is important to note that it is normal to experience distress after a traumatic event, but if any the following symptoms persist for longer than three months or dramatically disrupt a person’s life, they may being experiencing PTSD.
Mental Health Professionals use a categorical system to diagnose PTSD. Symptoms may fall under any of the following four categories:
1. Intrusive Memories
- Flashbacks – reliving the traumatic event
- Nightmares about the traumatic event
- Recurring memories about the traumatic event
- Severe distress when reminded of the traumatic event
2. Avoidance Symptoms
- Avoiding talking or thinking about the traumatic event
- Avoiding places, people, or things that are reminders of the traumatic event
3. Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Feeling tense
- Experiencing angry outbursts
4. Cognition and Mood Symptoms
- Difficulty remembering details about the traumatic event
- Negative thoughts about oneself
- Loss of interest in activities
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
PTSD and Substance Misuse
The exact reasoning behind why some people go on to develop PTSD while others are able to process the aftermath of trauma without any long-lasting symptoms is still unknown.
This is what we do know: After suffering from a traumatic event, it is important to grieve and revisit the trauma, rather than suppressing what occurred.
For many, this requires patience, diligence, and mental health counseling.
It is not uncommon for those who do not seek professional help after a traumatic event to turn to drugs and alcohol in order to self-medicate.
While substances may initially provide temporary relief from the effects of PTSD (such as insomnia, negative memories, and unstable moods), these symptoms will ultimately worsen through the use of drugs and alcohol.
As time passes, the use of more substances will be required to achieve the same numbing effect, leading to addiction.
In the long run, addiction ultimately serves as a bandaid for the symptoms of PTSD and delays a person’s ability to face their trauma and heal.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment for PTSD
Because many people who suffer from both PTSD and addiction are using substances as a way to avoid the effects of trauma, it is crucial that those seeking treatment for substance abuse also receive treatment for their PTSD.
The treatment of both addiction and a mental health disorder is known as Dual Diagnosis.
At Alo House, we understand the importance of Dual Diagnosis. We know that without treating all present mental health disorders, we are unable to provide proper addiction treatment.
This is why we offer psychotherapy treatments recognized by the National Center for PTSD such as:
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Interpersonal Mindfulness Based Self-Regulation (IMBSR)
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
We believe that by teaching these self-regulating tools, our clients are better equipped to manage the symptoms of their PTSD and addiction, providing the best chance for a successful, long-lasting recovery.