Opiate Addiction in Individuals Struggling with PTSD

ptsd and opiates

Did you know that individuals seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are 14 times more likely to also be diagnosed with a substance use disorder? Opiate use and PTSD are two disorders that are often more closely linked than people may realize. After continuous opiate use, the chances of developing a mental health disorder such as PTSD increase. 

In other cases, an opiate prescription is misused after it was given to the recovering individual for PTSD. Many different cases depict the correlation between PTSD and opiate use. Depressive symptoms have been found to partially mediate the relationship between post-traumatic stress disorder and opiate misuse. 

The prescription drugs given to treat PTSD, such as opioids, are highly addictive and can have severe consequences if misused. It’s crucial to be aware of the signs of PTSD and opiate addiction so we can take the right steps towards addiction recovery together. 

Covering the Basics: What Are Opiates?

Opiates can be described as prescription substances that are derived from opium, which is a chemical that develops naturally in poppy seeds and plants. Opiates are also referred to as “opioid painkillers” and can be used in clinical settings to alleviate physical pain. Although it’s seemingly harmless at first, these drugs are highly addictive. If this drug is misused (and it often is), an addiction can develop, leading to detrimental and fatal consequences.

The use of opiates can also serve as a gateway drug to more dangerous substances such as heroin. Opiate misuse can result in a toxic cycle of chasing a temporary high. However, we’d like to emphasize that there is a way out of addiction. You have the potential to not only break free but also to come out much stronger and happier after recovering from addiction. Becoming aware of the signs of opiate addiction and being honest with yourself is the first step.

How Do I Know If I Have An Opiate Addiction?

Opiate addiction is a disease that can take over a person’s life. If the use of a substance is interfering with your daily life and has become a priority, you may be struggling with an addiction. Physical dependence can be another tell-tale sign that addiction is forming. For example, you may have tried quitting only to be overwhelmed by withdrawal symptoms. 

However, it is also possible that those who misuse opiates do not end up developing a physical dependence on these drugs. But, this doesn’t make opiate misuse any less dangerous. The individual may still have developed a psychological dependence in which they depend on the substance for daily functioning. Perhaps opiate use has become your main way of coping with things such as stress, anxiety, or symptoms of PTSD. 

If you think that you’re struggling with opiate addiction, you can look out for signs such as:

  • Drowsiness
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased libido
  • Uncontrollable cravings
  • New financial difficulties
  • Isolation from loved ones
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Consistent flu-like symptoms
  • Changes in exercise habits
  • Lack of hygiene and self-care
  • The inability to control opiate use
  • Stealing from family, friends, or businesses

Let’s Define PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that develops as a result of experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Examples of traumatic events include natural disasters, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault. A diagnosis of PTSD is followed by exposure to an upsetting traumatic experience first.

However, if you have post-traumatic stress disorder, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the one who experienced the traumatic event. For instance, PTSD can develop after learning of a loved one’s death. Or perhaps you witnessed a frightening and serious car accident. Working professionals and service workers are also at a higher risk of developing PTSD. After repeated exposure to horrible details of trauma, the risk of personally identifying with the issues increases. 

Individuals that have PTSD struggle with unsettling emotions and thoughts long after the traumatic event ends. These people may find themselves constantly reliving the event in their minds and even through their dreams. Sadness, anger, numbness, and a detachment from one’s surroundings are all common feelings associated with PTSD. 

Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD tend to be grouped into four categories. These categories are as follows: avoidance, intrusive memories, changes in emotional reactions, and negative changes in thinking and mood.

Avoidance Symptoms

  • Avoiding discussing or thinking about the traumatic event
  • Avoiding places, activities, or people that trigger you to think of the traumatic event

Intrusive Memories

  • Flashbacks – reliving the event as if it were happening all over again
  • Discomforting dreams/nightmares about the traumatic event
  • Recurring memories of the traumatic event – even when you are trying not to think about them 
  • Feeling severe emotional distress or physical reactions to things that remind you of the traumatic event

Changes in Emotional Reactions

  • Irritability
  • Angry outbursts
  • Trouble focusing
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Jumpiness – being easily startled or frightened – jumping out of your skin
  • Always in “defense” mode – on guard for danger
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as reckless driving and drug or alcohol use

Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood

  • Feeling negatively about yourself and others
  • Lack of interest in activities that used to make you happy
  • Trouble maintaining relationships with others
  • Issues with memory – not being able to remember parts of the traumatic event
  • Feelings of hopelessness regarding the future, such as marriage, career, or living a normal life span
  • Emotional numbness – a feeling of detachment from others
  • Inability to experience positive emotions

It’s important to note that these symptoms vary based on the individual. You may have symptoms that are not necessarily listed or perhaps one category is more prevalent than the other.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can be an overwhelming experience for any individual. When trauma isn’t worked through, it can start to worsen over time. Consequently, this is when opiate use can become a problem.

How Does PTSD Relate to Opiate Addiction?

PTSD and opiate use often intersect. An individual struggling with trauma may be prescribed opioids as a way to temporarily alleviate discomfort. In other cases, an individual struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder may turn to opiates as a way to cope with the pain. In both cases, opiates are misused which leads to addiction. 

Those with PTSD are often at an increased risk for developing an addiction. According to a study published in Neuropsychopharmacology, long-term treatment with opioids could increase the risk of PTSD. This study connects chronic opioid treatment before a traumatic event that can result in the development of PTSD. 

Researchers are still figuring out exactly how these two correlate. However, they’ve come up with the following theories:

  • Susceptibility or Shared Vulnerability – Harmful use of alcohol or drugs such as opiates can alter the brain, which increases the risk for the development of PTSD. 
  • Self-Medication — People who are struggling with PTSD symptoms such as fear, insomnia, or flashbacks may turn to harmful substances as a way to temporarily calm these symptoms.
  • Risk Theory — Individuals who misuse drugs or alcohol put themselves in high-risk situations where the risk of a traumatic experience increases. 

Although it seems that the use of opiates can temporarily lessen PTSD symptoms, opiates can cause increased feelings of depression, anxiety, and emotional numbness, and a general decline in mental and physical health. We encourage you to reach out to our caring addiction treatment staff if you feel that you’ve used a substance as a way to cope with pain. 

There are many solutions to PTSD and opiate misuse. No matter what stage of addiction you or a loved one may be in, there is always potential to get better. Pain is temporary, but the growth that results from it can be exponential. 

Veterans Need Our Help: How Does PTSD and Opiate Use Affect Returning Soldiers?

A recent study from the Journal of the American Medical Association, researched the impact and risk of mental health disorders, like PTSD, when combined with prescription opioid use. Research confirmed that soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who have such mental health diagnoses, especially PTSD, are at an “increased risk of receiving opioids for pain, high-risk opioid use, and adverse clinical outcomes.”

Furthermore, the adverse effects of prescription opioid use in veterans include harmful use that results in addiction. This reveals to us an unfortunate truth. We live in a culture where pills are often thrown at problems, rather than taking the time to get to the root of the issue. Opioids may be prescribed for PTSD without any regulation. This can have serious consequences. 

The authors of the study also stated how “veterans with mental health diagnoses (who were) prescribed opioids, especially those with PTSD, were more likely to have addictive disorders; receive higher-dose opioid regimens; continue taking opioids longer; receive concurrent prescriptions for opioids, sedative-hypnotics, or both; and obtain early opioid refills”. 

These opioid prescriptions were associated with increased risk of negative effects for all veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly those with PTSD. These individuals were at the highest risk of alcohol-, drug-, and opioid-related accidents and overdose, as well as self-inflicted injuries.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for PTSD and Opiate Use: An Intense Focus on Mental Health

An individual with an addictive disorder and a mental illness can be diagnosed as having co-occurring disorders. In other words, a dual diagnosis involves the presence of a substance use disorder, as well as a mental health disorder. Recovering individuals who have co-occurring disorders receive a dual diagnosis treatment plan that is designed to treat both addiction and PTSD. 

At Sana Lake Recovery Center, we have a major focus on mental health. To treat addiction, the person must be treated as a whole. The physical aspect of addiction is only one part of a complex disease. There are mental and emotional roots as to why substance use occurred in the first place. 

We’re here to help you to work through that and develop healthy coping mechanisms to replace unhealthy habits. A dual diagnosis plan will be carefully tailored to each unique patient and their circumstances. You can expect to benefit from treatment services for PTSD and opiate use, such as:

Seek Help With Sana Lake Recovery Center Today

Opiate use and PTSD can be worked through and conquered. You or a loved one don’t have to live with this pain forever. No matter how lost you may feel, we assure you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As a member of our facility, you’ll receive high-quality treatment in an encouraging and supportive environment

Our certified substance use counselors at Sana Lake Recovery Center can help you navigate the ins and outs of an addiction recovery program. You can contact us at Sana Lake Recovery Center here. Our caring staff can help you find the drug and alcohol treatment resources you need to overcome PTSD and opiate use. 

References:

https://www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20120328opioidsinvets.html

https://www.crchealth.com/addiction/heroin-addiction-treatment/heroin-detox/link/

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

https://www.psycom.net/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/opioids/signs-of-opioid-abuse.html

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MDDavid Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.