How PTSD and Substance Abuse are Connected

Addiction Trauma PTSD

Traumatic events can leave a person feeling unstable long after the event has passed. Sometimes trauma can cause post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.  PTSD occurs when trauma and associated feelings are not resolved. Symptoms of PTSD include sleep disturbance, nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety and depression, excessive fears, impulsivity and addictive behaviors. People with unresolved trauma often turn to alcohol and other drugs as a means to self-medicate. While this may alleviate their stress temporarily, it is never a long-term solution and eventually substance abuse becomes yet another source of pain and trouble for an already suffering person.

Poor lifestyle choices can also put a substance abuser at greater risk for re-traumatization or PTSD.  Impaired driving, being in dangerous situations to get drugs or alcohol and drugs effects on a person’s judgment or alertness can lead to an increased risk of re-experiencing traumatic events. Whatever the cause for the correlation, the fact is that people suffering addiction very often have the additional problem of unresolved trauma. In these cases it is always best to treat the drug and alcohol addiction first but not to stop there.

The trauma survivor may work very hard to get and stay sober only to find other compulsions replacing drugs and alcohol, but once recovery from addiction is underway a person suffering from unresolved trauma will benefit greatly from trauma-focused therapies like PTSD intervention, body psychotherapy, which targets physiological responses, art and equine therapy or medications for depression and anxiety.

A licensed therapist can help find the best treatment plan for each individual. The bottom line is that resolving past trauma may require professional help but it is essential to living a truly healthy and gratifying sober life. For more information or to get help, contact Oceanside Malibu.



Adderall is the brand name for a mixture of amphetamine salts that were developed for treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Since 2007, prescriptions have doubled in the U. S and even those who don’t have a prescription are using it. An estimated 30% of university students used Adderall at some point as a study enhancer. So, what affect does this substance have on a person?

As Adderall is a combination of amphetamine salts, it is a close relative of methamphetamine, commonly known as meth. When the drug is ingested, it takes effect on the brain within an hour of use.  It affects neuroreceptors in the central nervous system, increasing the effect of serotonin and dopamine. In patients with ADHD, genetic studies have indicated that these individuals may have dysfunctional dopamine release. Because of the lack of dopamine, it is theorized that the brain is constantly seeking out stimulants, resulting in the distractibility commonly seen in ADHD patients. The dopamine and serotonin released by Adderall overcomes this deficit in ADHD patients, causing increased focus and making you feel less distracted.

Adderall also causes the release of norepinephrine, which activates the sympathetic nervous system, initiating your fight-or-flight response. This results in your body moving blood and energy towards the major organs and away from your limbs and digestion, which essentially increases alertness.  Although some studies have found that the substance can increase repetitive learning tasks, it does not make a difference when it comes to most cognitive tasks or complex learning techniques like those needed for an exam. So with students taking Adderall, any increase in studying skills may be from the fact that the drug gives you energy, and can help keep you awake for a night of studying because it is similar in chemical structure to meth.

The benefits of Adderall in academic circles is still up for debate, however the long-term detrimental effects of abusing the drug are clear.  Consistent release of serotonin and dopamine causes the brain to stop producing them naturally over time. Therefore, you would need to keep taking more and more of the chemical to get the same effect, making it highly addictive.  Long-term users of Adderall developed an inability to feel pleasure without a chemical stimulant, and these effects can linger even after you stop taking the drug.

Adderall abuse is a growing problem, so much so that millenials have sometimes been referred to as Generation Adderall. The abuse of Adderall in our culture is following a similar pattern to the current opioid crisis. This means that, as a society, we may need to seek measures to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

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Addiction Recovery Options

Recovery Options

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving a sustained recovery from addiction as everyone develops their addiction for unique biological, psychological and social reasons. The harm that addiction causes is specific to each individual too. Successful treatment incorporates multiple components targeting particular aspects of the illness and its consequences.

The first step however, is abstinence. For substance abusers this may involve medically supervised detoxification to relieve the sometimes life-threatening physical effects of withdrawal. Some people in recovery may benefit from medication that reestablishes normal brain function. diminishes cravings or treats co-existing mental health problems.

Medication-assisted therapies such as methadone, suboxone or vivitrol may be prescribed. Mental health counseling is another possible component in a successful recovery plana nd helps with modifying attitudes and behaviors related to addiction. Common approaches include: cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, couples and family counseling and working with a recovery coach. Peer support groups can be an invaluable source of guidance, assistance and encouragement for individuals in addiction recovery as well. As for family and friends impacted by the addiction, twelve-step programs like Al-Anon are among the best known peer support options.

While these approaches may not work for everyone and meetings may be geographically inaccessible, alternatives such as smart recovery, moderation management, secular organizations for sobriety and others have evolved and thanks to social media many of them are online where they afford the added benefits of being available 24/7 and allow participants to truly remain anonymous. The most important thing in addiction recovery is to find a support structure that works best for the person the individual and stick with it.

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Is It Depression?

depression treatment

Depression is about much more than sadness. But even if your idea of depression also includes things like hopelessness or apathy, what about irritability or anger?  Does depression make you think of overwhelming guilt?  What about memory loss? Because those are all symptoms, too. There’s a lot we still don’t understand about depression, especially when it comes to what’s happening on the cellular level.

We know that when it comes to the experience of depression, the disorder often shows itself in the form of unhealthy psychological processes. It turns out that some of those thought processes – specifically, self-blame and rumination – can lead to symptoms people might not realize are signs of depression. That is unfortunate because the result is that we misunderstand those who are suffering from it, sometimes including ourselves.

Psychologist Sigmund Freud pointed out that depression was different from simple sadness because it was associated with guilt, and today psychologists consider self-blame a key symptom of depression. When something bad happens, depressed people tend to blame themselves and see it as a reflection of their self-worth as a whole. An example researchers sometimes use is thinking that if you fail at a sports match, it means you’re a total failure. What’s unusual is that depressed people don’t usually assign blame to others the same way.

As it turns out, the unusual amount of guilt — and only applying it to yourself — might come from two regions of the brain that don’t activate together the way they should. In a recent study, researchers scanned the brains of 25 people who’d previously had depression and 22 people who didn’t. When the people who’d never been depressed read descriptions of themselves doing something wrong, it activated both the part of their brain associated with guilt and the part that deals with morality and what’s socially appropriate. In people who’d been depressed, that second part wasn’t activated as strongly.

People who are more prone to depression don’t necessarily have accurate self-appraisal skills, so they just feel guilty about everything. That is one unhealthy thought pattern that can cause symptoms beyond plain old sadness or apathy. Another is rumination and it’s a big one; rumination is, basically brooding, usually unintentionally.  Part of problem-solving involves analyzing the factors surrounding the problem, and that applies to negative emotional experiences, too. But rumination takes that way too far. It’s getting stuck thinking about everything that led to and resulted from a negative experience, and it’s strongly linked to both depression and anxiety.

Rumination can also explain some of the less straight forward signs of depression, like memory problems. Of all the symptoms of depression, memory problems might seem the most surprising, because we tend to classify depression as emotional, and memory as more a mechanical part of the mind. This is just a false dichotomy, as that’s not how the brain works.

Depressive disorders often include problems with cognitive function: the ability to clearly understand, process, and respond to information. Researchers think that has a lot to do with rumination eating up all one’s brain power. You need cognitive resources to pay attention and remember things, and when people with depression are using those resources to brood, they have trouble redirecting them toward the task at hand. They can end up struggling with episodic memory, which is the recollection of specific events that happened and working memory, which is how you hold on to information that you’re currently using to process other information.

This can become a vicious cycle, where the only way to break out of this pattern of rumination is to redirect one’s mental resources toward something that might make you feel better. However rumination makes it so much harder to do that. So people get stuck.

Rumination can also lead to another common symptom of depression: anger and irritability, which appears in more than half of patients, although it’s only used to diagnose the disorder in kids and teens. It can be a sign of particularly severe depression. At its core, rumination is a coping strategy people use to help regulate their emotions— it’s just not a very good one. Instead of feeling better, when people brood on something that made them angry, they tend to spend more time angry.

We still have more to learn about how unhealthy thought patterns like self-blame and rumination contribute to depression and its symptoms. As we study them, we’re discovering that they can explain a lot. Self-blame may have to do with brain regions not activating the way they should, and rumination may feel like getting stuck. However, researchers point out that unhealthy thought patterns like these are exactly what psychotherapy is meant to help address.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, especially, is designed to identify the connections between thought patterns and behaviors, and reshape those thought patterns in a healthier way. Depression is a complicated, difficult illness but there are therapies and treatments that can help.  Recognizing the different ways depression manifests itself is an important step toward getting help.

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Addressing Gender Issues in Treatment

Gender Issues

Over the last decade, the gender gap has been narrowing among young school students who use drugs. Women only represent a fifth of clients in specialised drug treatment, but their problems are often more complex than those for men: They tend to progress faster towards addiction; a phenomenon known as “telescoping”. They go through more severe withdrawal symptoms and report higher levels of depression and anxiety.

Women often start using drugs through a drug-using male partner, and are more likely to share needles and other equipment with their partner. In general, women are likely to have fewer socio-economic resources – this is even more the case for women who use drugs. They experience more stigma, because they may be perceived as contravening their roles as mothers and caregivers.

Some groups of women have specific needs, such as pregnant and parenting women, women from ethnic minorities, women in prison and those involved in sex work. A specific drug related issue for women is intimate violence and drug-facilitated sexual assaults, which has serious psychological and social consequences. Treatment for women with drug abuse issues need to address these unique concerns. Preferred treatment surroundings need to be welcoming, non-judgemental, supportive and physically and emotionally safe.

It is also helpful for any person seeking drug or alcohol rehabilitation at an accredited facility to be fully involved in the planning and development of their treatment plan.  The staff in the treatment environment need have appropriate attitudes, knowledge and skills; services need to be well coordinated and integrated to address different issues such as mental health, pregnancy and childcare. Monitoring and research needs to consider the gender dimension to optimise effective responses for women with drug-related problems.

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Methamphetamine, also called meth or crystal meth, among other names, is a psycho-stimulant drug mainly known for its recreational use. Methamphetamine is chemically similar to amphetamine, a drug used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity-disorder, obesity and narcolepsy; but being more potent and highly addictive, methamphetamine is rarely prescribed for medical treatments.

Most commonly, the drug is produced illegally, from pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in cold medicines. It can exist as white powder, pills, or bluish-white crystals, and can be consumed by swallowing, smoking, snorting, or injecting. Methamphetamine acts to increase the amount of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is at the basis of the brain reward pathway, which is designed to “reward” the body for important behaviors that are essential for survival, such as feeding when hungry.

Engaging in enjoyable activities causes dopamine release from dopamine-producing neurons into a space between neurons, where it binds to and stimulates its receptors on the neighboring neuron. This stimulation is believed to produce pleasurable feelings or rewarding effect. Normally, dopamine molecules are promptly cleared from the synaptic space to ensure that the post-synaptic neurons are not over-stimulated. This is possible thanks to the action of dopamine-transporter, which channels dopamine back to the transmittingneuron.

Methamphetamine binds to dopamine-transporter and blocks dopamine re-uptake. In addition, it can enter the transmitting neuron and trigger more dopamine release. The result is that dopamine builds-up in the synapse to a much greater amount than normal. This produces a continuous over-stimulation of receiving neurons and is responsible for the prolonged and intense euphoria experienced by drug users.

At a low dose, methamphetamine stimulates the brain and can elevate mood and alertness; and by accelerating heart rate and breathing rate, it increases energy in fatigued individuals. It also reduces appetite and promotes weight loss. These seemingly “positive” effects keep users coming back for more, eventually leading to addiction and potential overdose.

Long-term drug users may experience extreme weight loss, severe dental damage, and constant hyperactivity which results in anxiety, sleeping disorders and violent behaviors. Overdose takes the drug’s effects to the extreme and can cause psychosis, heart attacks, seizures, strokes, organ failures, and even death. Currently, there is no approved pharmacological treatment for methamphetamine addiction; the most effective treatments are cognitive behavioral therapies, 12-step support groups, drug education & detox as well as addiction treatment programs, among others.

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