PTSD & Trauma

There is often a connection between eating disorders and these co-occurring mental health issues.

While Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is most commonly associated with men and women who’ve served in the military and returned from battle — and rightly so given that 11 to 20 of every 100 veterans who served in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom struggled with PTSD in a given year alone — about one half of all adults living in the United States will experience at least one traumatic event in their lives. Most do not develop PTSD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, but the experiences can still have adverse effects.

PTSD stems from a life-threatening event or psychological trauma, and there isn’t a neat, one-size-fits-all characterization of when the signs will surface or what they’ll look like because they vary from person to person. For example, some PTSD or trauma symptoms may start shortly after a frightening event and continue, while others may show up months or even years later. No respecter of persons — young, old, wealthy, poor, educated, non-educated — PTSD can happen to anyone, even children according to mentalhealth.gov.

What You Need to Know About PTSD

The event or events that can cause PTSD are as unique as the person, but there are some common triggers.

A few events that may lead to PTSD include:

  • violent personal assault
  • natural disasters (earthquake, hurricane, flood, fire)
  • plane or car accident
  • disease outbreaks
  • combat
  • other forms of violence

Truth be told, it’s completely normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after a traumatic event. At first, it may be difficult to tackle your daily activities, like going to work or school, pursuing regular hobbies or even wanting to spend time with people you care about.

The difference is that most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months and find their rhythm again. If it’s been longer than a few months and you’re still having symptoms, you may have PTSD.

What PTSD Looks Like

For someone experiencing PTSD, there may be persistent, frightening, and even recurring memories of the event — almost to a point where it feels like you’re re-experiencing it all over again. Problems with sleep are also common along with feeling numb or detached, having angry outbursts, or being easily startled.

In the most severe cases, PTSD can significantly impact a person’s ability to function at work, home, and even socially. Fortunately, treatment is available.

What You Need to Know About Trauma

Like PTSD, there are many responses people can have to potentially traumatic events. It can result from a single event or a series of traumatic events that are repeated over time, causing an individual to become overwhelmed with painful, frightening, or loathing emotions.

While many people have intense responses immediately following a traumatic event (and oftentimes for several weeks or even months after), these are normal and expected responses and generally lessen with time.

Healthy ways of coping during this time period include avoiding alcohol and other drugs, spending time with loved and trusted friends and family who are supportive. It’s also important to try and maintain normal routines for meals, exercise, and sleep.

In some cases, however, the stressful thoughts and feelings after a trauma continue for an extended period and interfere with everyday life. For people who continue to feel the effects of the trauma, it is important to seek professional help

Trauma, PTSD, & Substance Abuse

Physically or emotionally traumatized people are at much higher risk for drug use and substance use disorders, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). As a result, the co-occurrence of these disorders is often associated with inferior treatment outcomes. People with PTSD may use substances in an attempt to reduce their anxiety (often referred to as self-medicating) and to avoid dealing with the trauma and its consequences.

Researchers have found a link between substance use disorder and PTSD, particularly for active service members who return from deployment. Between 2004 and 2010, approximately 16% of veterans had an untreated substance use disorder, and 8% needed treatment for serious psychological distress (SPD), according to National Institute on Drug Abuse data.

The survey of veterans also estimated that the rate of lifetime PTSD was 8 percent, while approximately 5 percent reported current PTSD. Approximately 1 in 5 veterans with PTSD also has a co-occurring substance use disorder.

How Does Trauma Affect the Body?

Brighten Bay Senior Fellow Bessel van der Kolk addresses how trauma manifests itself in the physical body in his New York Times bestseller, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. “Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies,” he explains. “The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside.”

Treating PTSD & Trauma

Effective treatment for PTSD in individuals with substance use disorders include both psychosocial interventions (for example, relapse prevention, contingency management, prolonged exposure, and teaching coping skills) and pharmacotherapies, according to drugabuse.gov.

The types and sequencing of these treatment modalities will differ based on the individual’s condition, goals, and preferences. Risks and benefits of medications should be discussed with professionals so every individual can make the most informed choice regarding treatment options.

Psychosocial interventions are key to effective treatment of both co-occurring conditions. They serve to educate individuals about both disorders, improve awareness on how these problems interact to contribute to poor outcomes, and assist in the development of coping skills to manage PTSD or trauma and substance use disorder symptoms. This dual diagnosis approach offers the best chance of lasting recovery.

Help for Those Struggling With PTSD and Trauma

We help eating disorder patients heal and also find freedom from debilitating PTSD and trauma and learn the skills necessary to build and re-build fulfilling relationships. Contact us today!