Complex PTSD and Substance Abuse: Commonly Co-Occurring

CPTSD | Just Believe Recovery Carbondale PA

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Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) is different from non-complex PTSD in many ways. Non-complex PTSD is also related to acute stress disorder, which has a shorter duration.

What are PTSD and CPTSD?

A one-time traumatic event characterizes PTSD. For example, sexual assault, physical assault, or severe accident/injury. Persons with PTSD often experience flashbacks or a sort of “re-living” of the event.

They also tend to avoid discussing the event or dealing with it. They have negative feelings about the event, and may suffer from recurring nightmares and other mental disturbances.

CPTSD, on the other hand, develops over time. It is caused by prolonged trauma by which many different factors and events may be at play. For example, a child who is abused or neglected throughout his or her childhood may develop signs of CPTSD.

Or, a person being raised in a poor neighborhood may witness multiple crimes against humanity, such as assault, rape, or homicide. Meanwhile, the child may face his or her own set of problems, such as mental or physical abuse.

While the origins of PTSD vs. CPTSD are different, the result is the same set of symptoms. Often, other mental illnesses develop out of these conditions as well. Most commonly, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, and substance abuse.

Due to the prolonged, ingrained nature of CPTSD, it is considered harder to treat and manage than regular PTSD.
Indeed, the assignment of this disorder as “complex” gives away its multi-layered structure. Treating C-PTSD means having extensive insight into the traumas experienced and their various effects.

Of little surprise, both PTSD conditions have a strong comorbidity with alcoholism and substance abuse. People, particularly youth, often do not want to talk about the trauma they have experienced. Thus, they are reluctant to seek help. Instead, they turn to self-medication in an attempt to dull the pain.

As a result, the substance abuse brings a whole other set of issues. It can exacerbate depression and serve to further emotionally isolate people. Also, side effects and withdrawal effects may contribute to anxiety.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not) future PTSD symptoms for children are related to experiences involving familial substance abuse. And we can argue all day about an alcoholic gene or predisposition to substance abuse, but the truth is, alcoholism and drug abuse do tend to run in families. So someone who experienced trauma via substance abuse growing up may engage in the same destructive behavior as a result.

Simply put, the trauma and the substance abuse may be extensively and viscerally intertwined. Unraveling this two disorder may be next to impossible. Therefore, developing a treatment which addresses each, as well as their intricate relationship to each other is critical for patient recovery.

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