What is Complex PTSD?
Complex PTSD is a specific diagnosis emanating from deficits that PTSD fails to cover. PTSD covers exposure to a single isolated traumatic event, while those who repeatedly witnessed traumatizing events often have different or more severe symptoms.
Complex PTSD describes symptoms related to chronic trauma. Such situations include concentration camps, prostitution brothels, long-term sexual abuse, long-term physical abuse, prisoner of war camps, and child exploitation rings.
Chronic abuse such as this, which might occur over months or years, has a far more devastating effect on an individual than a single event usually does.
Symptoms of complex PTSD include distortions of consciousness, including extreme dissociation, forgetting or reliving traumatic events, and problems with self-perception such as helplessness, hopelessness, despair, guilt, and shame.
Other problems arise in regulating emotions and experiencing extreme sadness, suicidal thoughts, and anger. Distorted views of the perpetrator are also common, including an obsession with or giving all power to them. Additionally, relationships with others may also be difficult with problems of distrust, isolation, and looking for a savior in others.
There is a significant difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD. A diagnosis of PTSD does not adequately represent people who have complex PTSD and often receive a diagnosis of Disorders of Stress Not Otherwise Specified or DESNOS.
A diagnosis is just a code for a set of symptoms. The real issue with such severely distressing experiences and symptoms after the fact centers around the need for treatment, education, and support and the failure of medicine or society to provide just that.
Complex PTSD and Substance Abuse
The more distressing or traumatic an experience or symptom is, the greater the association with substance abuse. People with Complex PTSD who lack proper psychological treatment or social support often turn to substances to ease their symptoms.
People with such severe symptoms are often desperate for relief. Alcohol, opiates, uppers, downers – whatever helps ease the pain at the moment. The tendency to reach for something to get through a difficult moment is understandable – as a society, we are taught that alcohol and other drugs are the answer to almost every problem. If we look to a drink at the end of a hard day, the reaction of numbing oneself in response to overwhelming trauma makes sense.
Self-medicating, however, can lead to intensified or worsening symptoms and the development of new symptoms. Insomnia, depression, and anxiety, for example, all tend to get worse in the aftermath of mood or mind-altering substances. The brain’s biological processes are thrown off balance by introducing drugs and alcohol, causing a short-term high followed by a longer recovery period.
The use of mood and mind-altering substances often leads to dependence and addiction. There is hope regardless of the substance of choice or length of use.
Getting Help for Addiction and Complex PTSD
No matter how severe the trauma or how bad the symptoms seem, there is always hope with treatment. Addiction and any other mental disorder are termed co-occurring disorders or dual-diagnosis. For individuals with Complex PTSD and addiction, both issues need to be addressed simultaneously for either treatment to have much effect.
The reason addiction rehab providers must target co-occurring disorders simultaneously relates to how the symptoms of each interact with each other. If a person experiences depression and uses drugs to self-medicate, treating only the addiction will not help the underlying issue. Additionally, treating the depression and not the addiction means the person continues to use, and their depression will not heal until the use stops.
Treatment for Complex PTSD involves some of the same techniques utilized for PTSD with some additional methods. Treatments include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), EMDR, and other evidence-based options. Additionally, people with Complex PTSD need to address the difficulties specific to their trauma. Interpersonal difficulties, trust issues, empowerment, regaining control of one’s life, and other topics may need to be addressed.
A quality drug and alcohol treatment center understand fully how addiction and Complex PTSD affect each other. Anyone with these two disorders requires specialized treatment in a facility that can address co-occurring disorders. Many great treatment centers are equipped to handle just such cases across the United States.
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