Importance of Dual Diagnosis: PTSD

Importance of Dual Diagnosis: PTSD

Most individuals who are presently seeking treatment for substance abuse whether it is drugs or alcohol also have an underlying mental health condition. Whether it is anxiety, PTSD, depression, or another mental illness, a variety of individuals with substance use related conditions are self medicating to help manage their mental health symptoms. Because mental illness allows an individual to be more vulnerable to the use of drugs and alcohol, individuals with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders deal with unique triggers and increased risk of relapse if not addressed simultaneously. A lot of the time, an individual will state that “I only drink when I am depressed so I just need to focus on my depression” or “Alcohol makes me less anxious so I just need medications to help deal with my anxiety”. The concern with this mindset is that you are not working on both concerns instead your placing a band aid over one and attempting to heal the other. This is counterproductive. In order to maintain a healthy balance in your life and maintain your sobriety it’s important to focus on treatment that is specific to dual diagnosis, especially when it comes to PTSD.
Thoughtful psychotherapist during session with sad patient with

What is PTSD? And what are the symptoms?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a “terrifying event”. A terrifying event is subjective to the person. This can be a car accident, a life-threatening event, abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, or verbal), abandonment, a loss of a loved one, etc. It’s important to understand that what is traumatic to you may not be traumatic to someone else. Therefore, how we handle a situation is also different. When it comes to PTSD, there are a variety of symptoms however these are the most common;
Behavioral changes
For an individual experiencing PTSD the most common behavioral changes you will be able to identify include irrational and angry outbursts, sudden change in personality (for example if you are normally a quiet more reserved individual and then become more risky and irrational this is a common sign), the inability to focus and a constant fear of danger or being attacked (causing one to be jumpy and paranoid).

Mood Swings

Feelings of hopelessness, feeling numb, thoughts of suicide may come or go, as well as feelings of guilt and shame are typically present. Due to having flashbacks and nightmares you can experience severe anxiety which can interfere with your sleep causing more irritability and depression.


It’s common for an individual experiencing PTSD symptoms to be avoiding those who they love and their normal routines. When you are identifying that you are becoming more and more withdrawn from normal routines or events that normally would bring you joy and excitement this can become alarming.

So why is it important to engage in dual diagnosis treatment?

When you participate in therapy for both conditions you are working on the following;
  • Identifying the root causes of your substance use as well as your emotional suffering.
  • You are allowing yourself to gain a deeper insight into the relationship between your addiction and your mental illness as well as the obstacles they each present to your healing.
  • You’re working on identifying the skills to cope with distress without self medicating with drugs and alcohol.
  • Your engaged in evidence based therapeutic practices allowing yourself the ability to identify your needs to live a healthy balanced life.
  • You’re presented with the opportunity to build a healthy and positive recovery support in your life to utilize when you are feeling hopeless or just need to talk to someone with similar concerns.
By engaging in dual diagnosis treatment, you are provided with the opportunity to work with clinicians who specialize in dual diagnosis care as well as clinicians who are able to assist you with your recovery while you identify the tools you need to manage your psychological pain and your needs in order to maintain emotional and behavioral wellness.

What does Dual Diagnosis treatment look like?

Most dual diagnosis treatment programs will include a variety of evidenced based treatment practices. This typically includes the following;
Group Therapy- This is beneficial for any individual due to the ability to be in a group with other individuals who have similar concerns and are also seeking tools to utilize when trying to manage their mental health and substance abuse concerns. Group therapy can be intimidating at times due to feeling nervous and overwhelmed when presented with the idea of sharing in front of a group what you are presently struggling with or talking about the traumatic event that has caused your PTSD. However, it is important to remember that you are not forced to engage in the group discussion. You have the ability to share when you want to and engage at your own pace. You should understand that when you are present in the group you will have the opportunity to hear others and their concerns, which can help you in a way you would never have expected if you didn’t challenge yourself to be engaged in the first place.
Individual Therapy- Working with a certified counselor, psychiatrist, or psychologist is beneficial for many reasons. This allows you the opportunity to work with a professional when trying to identify healthy boundaries, medication management, and identify healthy and positive tools to utilize when trying to manage both your mental health while trying to maintain your sobriety at the same time. Individual counseling provides you with more of a secure and safe environment to discuss your concerns that you are more fearful of discussing in a group setting. Individual counseling can be more in depth allowing for the opportunities to work on all aspects of your life including vocational, nutritional, and basic life skills counseling.
Medication Management- The Proper management of symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health related conditions often require the assistance of appropriate medications. Medication is a widely accepted tool in dual diagnosis treatment and is considered to be an essential part of the recovery process.

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