Use of Opiates to Cope with PTSD

in Trauma
Published Jan 6, 2021
opiates to cope with PTSD

Trauma isn’t rare. According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, up to 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women experience at least one trauma in their lifetime. Unfortunately, trauma often leaves a deep, everlasting mark on individuals, causing emotional wounds that sometimes result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—otherwise known as “PTSD.”

Without clinical intervention, a person who suffers from PTSD will often struggle to cope with stress and emotional regulation. Oftentimes, PTSD will drive a person to reach for substances, such as opiates, as a way of self-medicating.

Our Executive Clinical Director, Steve Carleton, LCSW, shares why opiates are used to self-medicate, and what solutions are available for people struggling with PTSD and addiction.

What is PTSD?

PTSD occurs when a person has experienced a significant traumatic event, in which a person may fear that their life or others’ lives are in danger. People who have PTSD may constantly feel stressed or frightened, even when they are not in clear danger.

What is PTSD?

There is a provably strong link between PTSD and addiction. According to experts, as many as
75 percent of people with substance use disorders (SUD) have experienced some form of trauma. (You can read more about trauma and addiction in our blog, Trauma and Addiction: What You Need To Know.)

Use of opiates to cope with PTSD

Carleton elaborated that while there may not be a higher incidence of opiate use compared to other substances, those who suffer from PTSD consistently use opioids.

“Opiates are common for people that have suffered injuries related to trauma,” he says. “Exposure to opiates and subsequent prescriptions increases risk of substance use disorder.”

Addiction is often referred to as being “inside out” and our brains don’t know the difference between legal and illegal drugs. “PTSD symptoms are maintained by avoidance and stuck thinking,” explains Carleton. “Using opiates (or other mind altering substances) is a common way people avoid feeling, thinking, and numb traumatic experiences.”

One of the reasons people use opiates to cope with PTSD is that human beings are wired to numb pain wherever possible. “Whether it is physical or psychological, substances in this category are uniquely designed to cover up discomfort,” Steve explains. “People describe feeling a sense of well-being and being washed over by a sense of calm and peace on opiates.” However, as with other drugs, that relief is short-lived. Over time, regular use will result in tolerance to opioids, while stopping them becomes challenging, since the person may experience withdrawal symptoms.

How to deal with opiates coping with PTSD

It may feel like addiction to opioids and PTSD are mutually exclusive, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Carleton pointed toward recent evidence showing that addressing SUD and PTSD concurrently is the most effective way of resolving someone’s compounded trauma and addiction

“For a long time, there was a thought that treating trauma ‘too early’ would worsen the substance use disorder. This has been disproven,” he says. “People should be confident that leaning into discomfort and talking about trauma will hurt in the short term but ultimately lead
to more rapid recovery.”

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and trauma we are here to help. At Gallus Medical Detox Centers, we bring compassion to the commotion. Peace to the pain. Empowerment to the powerless. If you or someone you know needs support with addiction problems, bring us your battle. Call us today and take the best, first step towards recovery: 720-704-1432

You might find the following blogs helpful:

Meth Withdrawal

Risks of OxyContin Use

Symptoms of Overdose & What To Do

Signs of Heroin Withdrawal