As we approach the month of June, SagePoint IOP would like to take the time to acknowledge PTSD Awareness Day. PTSD or Post-traumatic stress disorder impacts about 6.8% of Americans, but when we look at people who are also suffering from addiction, those rates are even higher. Research has found a high correlation between adverse childhood experiences (ACES) and developing a substance use disorder as often substance misuse and substance-seeking behaviors are the result of managing and relieving symptoms of trauma.
Around 12-34% of people who are in substance use disorder treatment also have a co-occurring diagnosis of PTSD, so it is essential that here at SagePoint that we focus on trauma-informed addiction treatment. Approaching each individual from this perspective ensures that we do not unknowingly re-traumatize them and that we are respectful of traumatic experiences that contribute to their disorder but may not qualify for a diagnosis.
This blog focuses on the important things we need to know about PTSD so that individuals can receive the empathic and supportive care that they need.
How Does Awareness Help?
Some people might wonder why it even matters to have PTSD Awareness Day in June. This day was actually formally acknowledged by the senate in 2010 to remember and honor Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Joe Biel who took his life after two tours in Iraq. June 27th was Biel's birthday. As demonstrated in the tragic end to his story, the consequences of people not getting support for this diagnosis can be high. His story is unfortunately not uncommon for many who have witnessed the horrors of war or who have survived emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. Many traumatized individuals will turn to extreme means of coping, substance use included.
Although many Americans have PTSD, there is a large percentage that has not connected their symptoms to a formal diagnosis or who are suffering in silence. PTSD Awareness Day provides an opportunity to help reduce the stigma of mental illness and having a difficult response to trauma. While awareness campaigns often center around PTSD symptoms, the important piece of understanding we are passionate about here at SagePoint IOP is the awareness that so many people who have been traumatized turn to substances to help them cope.
We often display intense empathy and support for individuals who have been traumatized while simultaneously holding contempt for the decisions made by those who struggle with addiction. The truth is that these groups are one and the same. When we look beyond the challenging behaviors associated with addiction—the lack of truthfulness, stealing, betrayal, and inconsistency—we can see the hurt underneath. Words like isolation, fear, pain, and loss are much more familiar to the internal experience of someone living with addiction than the often harmful and uncaring attitude that we assume.
Ways to Help a Loved One with PTSD
If you have a loved one with PTSD (or substance use disorder) then you know that your role in their life goes way beyond PTSD Awareness Day on June 27th. Here are some ways you can support your loved one all year round.
Spend Time Together: Many people with PTSD and SUDs feel isolated from the people they love. It is important to do normal things together like hobbies and activities. Your loved one may not want to discuss the past and it is important not to force them, but instead, let them take the lead and provide a safe landing space that helps them experience some normalcy.
Educate Yourself: There is a lot of good information out there about PTSD and the link between trauma and addiction. The more you know about the impact of PTSD the more you will be able to understand what they are going through to provide patience and support. Often understanding and listening to your loved one’s triggers and experiences can help you be prepared for potential reactions and the unhealthy coping mechanisms they may be tempted by.
Don’t Give a Quick Fix: If your loved one begins to share with you about their struggles be aware of some common conversation traps that may minimize the impact of PTSD. This can sound like saying things like “everything will be okay” or “it could have been worse”. PTSD is very complex and often people need a listening ear that encourages a safe place to share without judgment or being overshadowed with advice or personal stories.
Encourage Treatment: Take care of yourself and remember that it is not your responsibility to heal your loved one. Providing options for substance use disorder treatment with a trauma focus and acknowledging the helpfulness of support can be so valuable. It can also be useful to explore your own support and counseling at this time.
SagePoint IOP is passionate about sharing our knowledge and helping rally support for PTSD Awareness Day on June 27th. We acknowledge that many people seeking addiction treatment have co-occurring disorders and strive to provide trauma-informed addiction treatment. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please reach out today to learn more about our services.