Substance Use Disorders & PTSD Connection

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It's no secret that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be debilitating at times in one's life. It's also no secret that PTSD can negatively impact the effectiveness of other mental health treatments. The Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center estimates that one in three individuals seeking treatment for substance use disorders (SUD) also suffer symptoms of PTSD, presenting a challenge for mental health professionals.

While exposure therapy has been shown to be effective at treating individuals with co-occurring PTSD & SUD, only recently have more treatment settings began to use this method. Another barrier to treating co-occurring PTSD and SUD is the fact that many who suffer from PTSD don't realize it, making psychoeducation on symptoms all the more important in compelling these people to seek treatment. The American Addiction Center helps people do this with four self-diagnosable symptoms that can help people determine if they should seek treatment:

  • Re-experiencing trauma through flashbacks, nightmares, or frightening thoughts.
  • Difficulty sleeping, being on edge, having angry outbursts, or being easily startled.
  • Avoidance of people, places, or things that may serve as a reminder of trauma.
  • Loss of interest in usual activities, distorted feelings of guild, and negative self-image.

PTSD and SUD have a complicated relationship that can make treatment more of a challenge. The high levels of stress associated with PTSD makes individuals more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol as a distraction. For people with the co-occuring disorders, drugs provide temporary relief from symptoms of their PTSD by using drugs that increase dopamine levels in the brain. When the drugs wear off, however, dopamine levels drop to below normal levels and exacerbates PTSD symptoms, incentivizing continued drug use. This highlights the importance of treating underlying stress disorders concurrently with SUD treatment as a means of maximizing effectiveness.

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Treatments for children with PTSD

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What can we do to treat PTSD in children? Dr. Joan Kaufman of the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University explains the four stages of trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy, an evidence-based intervention for children who have impairing reactions to traumatic events.
One key insight, she says, is that caregivers and children must work together, and that clear communication and understanding can make all the difference.

June is PTSD Awareness Month

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In the past little was known about PTSD in children. Today, we know that trauma and abuse can cause chidlren to suffer with PTSD. In the United States, Child Protective Services receives reports on the abuse or neglect of about 5.5 million children in a year. Some of those children will inevitably suffer from the affects of that trauma. 

Following trauma, most children will have some symptoms. They may be fearful of strangers or become needy toward their parents. They might also have sleep problems/nightmares or become more irritable, aggressive, or reckless. Young children may lose skills they once had, such as potty training. They might go back to earlier habits, like sucking their thumb. Although most children have symptoms following trauma, only a few will go on to get PTSD. 

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Early trauma affects the nervous system which is shaped by experiences. Stress and trauma, especially over a period of time, can lead to changes in parts of the brain. This can have long-term effects on physical, mental, and emotional growth. What's more, the impact of early abuse often extends into later childhood, teen, and even adult years.

It is important to help children deal with trauma as they probably will have little to no coping mechanisms to help them. Pediatricians and other child health care providers can give support, education, safety planning, and information about treatment. Also child and family social services can help caregivers with many issues. There is help out there for children who may have PTSD issues.

Columbia River Mental Health Services offers mental health and substance use treatment to adults and children.

Self-care, not Selfishness: The Mental Health Benefits of Focusing on You


There’s a mindset among many people that self-care amounts to selfishness. It’s a misunderstanding rooted in an ethos of self-sacrifice and hard work that drives many people to the brink of mental and physical exhaustion, raises stress to unhealthy levels and puts pressure on relationships. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, but it’s critically important to take care of yourself ... especially if you’re a hard worker. Taking time out for yourself helps keep your life in balance and your perspective in proportion.

If self-care makes you feel like you’re inconsiderate or not pulling your weight, try thinking of it as a healthful practice that can keep you active and effective at work and in your personal life. 

Self-care does not have to mean spending a lot of money on yourself, spending time away from your family, or being pointedly self-indulgent. It’s all about taking care of yourself in every way that matters. If you find going for a long walk relaxing, then you should do it as often as you can. It also includes getting enough sleep, reducing stress, not committing to too many responsibilities, and just taking time to decompress. Personalize your self-care routine by emphasizing activities that are most meaningful to you. 

If you tend to run down easily, then taking time to get extra sleep might be your greatest self-care need. If you have high blood pressure, exercise and relaxation may be your focus. Practicing effective self-care will help keep your life in balance. Avoiding activities that make you feel good can undermine self-confidence, sap your energy and negatively affect your performance at work. The sky’s the limit, so try something you know you’ll enjoy. 

A little ‘you time’

Even if you’re a normally sociable person, there’s a lot of value in spending a little time just doing something by yourself. There may be an activity you enjoy that others don’t. Maybe your weeks are just too busy to allow for reading a book over a good cup of coffee, or perhaps you’re an avid bike rider but don’t get to do it as often as you’d like. The important thing is not to dismiss the need to indulge yourself once in a while. Not paying attention to your own needs can have long-term costs, even if you’re not aware of how it may be affecting you. 

Try something new

Don’t be afraid to try something you’ve always wanted to but thought it’d just be a waste of valuable time. That’s a self-defeating mindset, and it means you need to rethink your priorities a bit. Have you always wondered about your ancestry? Why not do some digging and give genealogy a try? It’s one of the most popular hobbies on earth, and there’s an endless supply of free resources to help you get off to a good start. There are also many opportunities to take a class online, or even pursue a degree. If you have an interest in a particular subject, why not explore the possibility? 


Meditative disciplines can help calm your mind and reduce stress. Best of all, meditation doesn’t take a lot of time, and you can do it without investing a bunch of money. Take a yoga class, or learn the discipline of meditation. Many people focus on a mantra, repeating a word or phrase over and over. Find a room in your home, a quiet spot where you can meditate in peace and comfort. 

Self-care is an investment in your mental and physical well-being. If you can find a way to make it a priority, you’ll benefit mentally, physically and emotionally. You might even find a new passion that could transform your life.


Special Tips for Mental Wellness Month

Here are a few ways to help maintain your mental well-being:

Develop A Positive Attitude – Remember that YOU control your attitude. Tell yourself you can change. Check out online resources like THIS for tips to help you maintain a possitive attitude.
Learn Self-Appreciation – Focus on your strengths and try to change the way you feel about your weaknesses. Mistakes can be learning tools. HERE is a resource about how to develop self esteem.
Strengthen Mental Resilience – Resilience is the ability to bounce back from tough situations and to avoid becoming a victim of helplessness. Consider how every situation can be a learning experience. Learn more about improving your resilience HERE.
Laugh – You know the saying "laughter is the best medicine". It is also a great way to take care of your mental wellness and manage stress. Laughing has many positive health benefits. Learn how to introduce more laughter into your life HERE.
Develop Relationships – A support network is vital for your well-being. You need to have people that you can rely on to share experiences and help you cope with situations. HERE are some tips on developing several types of relationships.
Exercise Regularly – Being active can boost energy and release chemicals in the brain that fight mental fatigue. HERE are some tips on how to start and maintain an exercise routine. You can also try yoga and meditation which are great for mental wellness.