Tag Archives: PTSD

How to Help Someone Who’s Struggling Physically or Emotionally with Mental Illness

Many people suffering from stress disorders and other forms of mental illness need encouragement, support and empathy from those closest to them. It can be difficult to determine the best ways to approach a person struggling with mental illness, and stress effects are different for everyone.

However challenging it may be, developing healthy coping strategies and trying various types of stress-management techniques can prevent people struggling with mental illness from falling into addiction. An important part of addiction awareness is understanding the main risk factors for addiction, and stress is one of the most prevalent.

Relationship Between Stress and Mental Illness

There are countless possible stress causes in the world, and every individual will respond to them differently. However, people who suffer from mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and other conditions may have trouble using typical coping techniques.

They may also feel the negative effects of different types of stress more acutely and take longer to recover from periods of extreme stress. Unfortunately, many of these individuals begin to consider alcohol or addictive drugs as the only viable stress busters available.

Types of Stress

Some people experience high-stress situations acutely during disasters, emergencies and traumatic events. Others may experience consistent but less severe stress over time from work, school or everyday obligations.

People who experience extremely stressful incidents may develop mental health conditions as a result. One of the most common is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition affecting combat veterans and victims and witnesses of violent crimes, disasters and accidents.

PTSD can cause nightmares, periods of extreme depression, paranoia and a host of other symptoms. This condition is just one example of how acute stress can cause long-term problems, but chronic exposure to lower-stress situations is also damaging. The workplace is a stressful environment for many people, for example.

Unless these individuals develop viable methods of handling their everyday stressors, chronic stress can start to affect physical and emotional health.

Stress Effects: How Stress Can Lead to Addiction

Stress can eventually lead to addiction without healthy alternative coping strategies. One of the most vital steps of addiction recovery is discerning the root cause or origin of a substance use disorder, and one of the most commonly cited causes is stress.

Some people feel overwhelmed by their circumstances and turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. The brief periods of artificial happiness, relaxation and euphoria that drugs provide will eventually devolve into habit, routine and then full-blown addiction.

Drugs as Coping Tools

Different drugs may appear to alleviate stress in different ways, and people may use them for various reasons as coping tools. It’s crucial to understand the dangers of different types of drug dependencies:

  • Opioids: Someone suffering from mental illness may begin to self-treat their symptoms with drugs meant for physical pain, and opioid painkillers are the strongest painkillers available.
  • Hallucinogens: Distorting one’s perception of reality can feel like a welcome escape when reality is stressful or too difficult to handle sober. Hallucinogenic drugs can eventually deteriorate one’s personality and interpretations of reality, leading to serious psychological problems over time.
  • Benzodiazepines and tranquilizers: People who struggle with anxiety disorders may receive prescriptions for benzodiazepine medications and begin abusing these drugs. Anti-anxiety drugs can produce feelings of calm, and eventually a person will begin to rely solely on these drugs for relief from stressful situations.
  • Alcohol: One of the most commonly abused substances on Earth can lower inhibitions, create pleasurable feelings and act as a “social lubricant.” Many people rely upon alcohol to unwind after stressful days at work. Unfortunately, alcoholism progresses rapidly, and the lifestyle of a high-functioning alcoholic isn’t tenable.

Cycles of Dependency

Stress never really ends; we just develop better ways of handling it over time. However, resorting to substance abuse creates a slew of new stressors.

Addiction effects vary for everyone, but the overwhelming majority of addicts face:

  • Economic ruin
  • Damaged personal relationships
  • Strained career choices
  • Myriad physical health concerns

The Effects of Stress and Addiction on the Mind and Body

Chronic stress can deteriorate physical health, leading to problems such as:

  • Obesity (from overeating as a coping mechanism)
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Many other possible issues

Instead of treating stress by self-medicating, one should learn healthier coping strategies to prevent substance abuse and make it easier to both handle everyday stress and recover from acute stressors.

Stress Management: Developing Better Ways to Cope

Addiction treatment services typically include a full regimen of holistic and natural therapies and activities to de-stress the mind and body and to recover more wholly from substance abuse.

A few examples of effective stress-relief treatments include:

  • Exercise and physical activities: A healthier body naturally encourages better mental health, and a person with a healthy physical body can better handle and process stress in optimum ways.
  • Meditation and mindfulness exercises: These practices can help overcome the psychological effects of stress.
  • Behavior therapy: People struggling with mental health disorders often need behavioral therapy to understand their situations and process stress in constructive ways. Addiction behavior generally focuses on reward-seeking patterns and responses to stimuli. Behavioral therapy can help a person acknowledge dangerous patterns and develop healthier responses to his or her environment.
  • Support from friends and family: One of the most essential tools in addiction treatment is building and rebuilding personal relationships. Suffering from a mental health disorder or substance use disorder can be very isolating. Thus, interpersonal relationships are crucial for overcoming the loneliness that substance abuse often entails.

Help for Stress and Substance Abuse

There are many resources for addiction help and addiction treatment available, but it’s important to know what to expect from the rehab experience. For instance, physically removing drugs from the body (aka detox) is just the first step in a long process.

Addiction help is available for those willing to take the next step and learn to manage their stress in healthier ways. If you or your loved one is battling substance abuse along with excess stress or a mental health condition, look into Reflection Recovery Center today. We will craft an individualized treatment plan that can help you or your loved one learn to manage stressors in healthier ways while recovering from addiction in an inpatient setting.

Holistic Therapy Is Great for Managing Stress

See Which Techniques We Use

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD and Addiction

Experiencing a trauma does not necessarily equate for that person to develop an addiction. However, there are studies that indicate that there is a connection between childhood trauma, PTSD (post-traumatic syndrome), and substance use and abuse. There are studies indicating a link between trauma and addictions, or trauma and substance abuse.

Emotional scars due to past trauma can make it difficult for an individual to cope afterward. The individual’s perspective can change, more so if the trauma is left unresolved. The person may turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism if his traumatic experience remains unsolved and left to compound. One study indicates that out of 587 individuals who suffered a form of trauma, 44% individuals are addicted to marijuana, 39% are alcoholics, 34.1% have cocaine dependence, and 6.2% individuals are addicted to opiates.

Addiction may also present itself in behavioral forms such as gambling, sex, and an eating disorder.

Trauma and the Brain

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD and AddictionDue to advances in neuroscience, we now know that the amygdala is the brain’s threat detection center. When the amygdala becomes overactive, it gets into a mode of qualifying and assessing each situation as a threat. This, in turn, makes us feel fearful, vulnerable and anxious.

The brain’s center for memory processing is the hippocampus. In an underactive mode, the hippocampus fails to consolidate and store memories in the brain’s outer layer for long-term storage. Instead, memories are placed in a loop of present-day happenings, making us remember and recall disturbing, hurtful and uncomfortable experiences.

The cortex is the part of the brain that handles executive control. Its function is interrupted when the brain is triggered by survival instincts. When in this mode, logical thinking is overruled, cognitive processing and the ability to control behavior are diminished. The urge for addicting substances or behavior becomes overpowering. Substance dependence becomes the means to cope with the overwhelming sensations brought about by past trauma.

When children are traumatized, changes in their brain are observed. The brain of young children grows and develops in such a way that it’s adaptable; allowing them (children) to adjust to situations, absorb and learn new things, and mature rapidly. When a child experiences trauma, the same plasticity of the brain becomes harmful as the child adapts to negative behavior due to fear.

There are actual physical changes in the brain of traumatized children. The shape, size, and frequency of brain connections are permanently altered. Thus, children who experienced trauma are more inclined to develop depression, anxiety and have increased susceptibility to substance abuse.

Traumas linked to Addiction

PTSD, physical abuse, rape, child abuse, bullying, emotional abuse, experiencing a natural disaster, witnessing violence -these are just some of the devastating events that can scar a person for life. As a result of the trauma they encountered, children who survived abuse are more likely to develop PTSD. The following are typed as discrete or big T traumas.

Physical and/or Emotional Abuse

A child is not supposed to experience any form of abuse. Neglect, emotional and physical abuse during childhood may well extend to adulthood, increasing the likelihood of abusing drugs and alcohol to block out feelings of rage and cruel memories.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual molestation or abuse, and rape are not only traumatic, but they also open up the feeling of betrayal as the perpetrator is usually known to the victim. Most victims of sexual abuse and rape fail to seek help for fear of discrimination, and embarrassment. They rely instead on self-medicating their trauma, turning to addicting substances or behavior.

Accidents and Crime

Trauma brought about by witnessing or being the victim of an accident or crime tends to change an individual’s daily life activities. For example, a person who survived in a car accident may panic and feel lost and afraid every time they have to ride a car. A sense of helplessness may take over they that they have no option but to take alcohol or prescription drug to calm themselves down.


Grief is debilitating even for a person who has no tendency to develop trauma. Grief takes a huge toll on the emotional and mental state of a person, which could lead to depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance abuse. As a means of coping, such individual may resort to using prescription medications, drugs, alcohol and other behavioral addictions.

Natural Disaster

A devastating earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, or any other natural disaster can be a very traumatic event. It becomes possible for the individual to re-live that trauma through flashbacks, hallucinations or dreams, over and over again. Akin to PTSD, the traumatized individual tries to erase the memories, numb his emotions, and disassociate himself from reality by turning to drugs or alcohol. The relief is temporary, but the substance abuse will ultimately lead to dependence. However, trauma-triggered addiction treatment centers are equipped to handle such addicts.

Trauma and PTSD Differentiated

Trauma is any physical or emotional injury inflicted on a person. Psychologically, it is further defined as an overwhelming experience that is emotionally or physically shocking, distressful and agonizing.

“Big T traumas were mentioned early on. “Small t” traumas are chronic traumas that pertain to reoccurring painful experiences and situations. This encompasses, being teased or bullied, ongoing childhood neglect and parental criticism. The traumatic situation is current so it is harder to identify.

Whether it is a “big T” or a “small t” trauma, it is all about the experienced physical and emotional aftermath of an occurrence or series of occurrences.

PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a grave form of anxiety disorder brought about by exposure to an event or series of events that resulted in psychological trauma. Sources indicate that about 30% of individuals who experienced trauma will develop PTSD. In relation, PTSD-related addiction disorders are more apparent in women.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

Signs and symptoms of PTSD are very recognizable as they are emotional, physical, and cognitive symptoms. Personal relationships of a person with PTSD are highly and negatively impacted.

Emotional symptoms include:

  • fear, depression
  • evasion or avoidance
  • panic, anxiety
  • a feeling of anger, irritability, numbness
  • out of control

Physical symptoms include:

  • lethargic
  • unexplained sensations such as pain
  • increased libido
  • eating and sleeping disorders

Cognitive symptoms include:

  • easily distracted
  • lack of concentration
  • lapses in memory
  • difficulty in making decisions

Behavioral signs and symptoms also occur and they include eating disorders, sexual disruption, self-destructive behavior and substance abuse. Re-living or re-experiencing the trauma is also evident in PTSD cases. Nightmares, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts occur.

PTSD and addiction treatment and rehabilitation are offered at Reflections Recovery Center.

Learn More About The Link Between Trauma and Addiction