PTSD and drug use

PTSD and drug use

There are many reasons why people may use drugs. Of course, we all know that the main reason reported is “to have a good time” or “for the effect”. Others use to “feel part of a group” or because of “social pressure”. Unfortunately, others use substances to cope with stress and problems that they may be experiencing in their lives.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that may develop after a person has experienced a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers. PTSD was first brought to public attention in relation to war veterans, but it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as mugging, sexual assault, torture, being kidnapped or held captive, child abuse, car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings, or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.

People with PTSD find it hard to forget about what happened and move on with their life. They often have nightmares or flashbacks, feel cut off or detached from others, have difficulty sleeping or concentrating, feel irritable and on guard all the time, and avoid people, places or conversations that remind them of what happened.

People with PTSD may startle easily, become emotionally numb (especially in relation to people with whom they used to be close), lose interest in things they used to enjoy, have trouble feeling affectionate, be irritable, become more aggressive, or even become violent. They avoid situations that remind them of the original incident, and anniversaries of the incident are often very difficult. PTSD symptoms seem to be worse if the event that triggered them was deliberately initiated by another person, as in a sexual assault. Many people with PTSD repeatedly relive the trauma in their thoughts during the day and in nightmares when they sleep. Some people also have flashbacks, where they lose touch with reality and believe that the traumatic incident is happening all over again. Flashbacks may consist of images, sounds, smells, or feelings, and are often triggered by ordinary occurrences, such as a door slamming or a car backfiring on the street.

Unfortunately, we now know that many people with PTSD find it hard to cope with these symptoms and may use drugs as a result.

The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) is currently conducting a trial in Sydney of a psychological treatment for people who are having difficulties coping after experiencing a traumatic event and who wish to cut down on their drug use. If you are interested in participating in the trial please call Julia Rosenfeld on 02 9385 0145.

Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug and, no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blasé.

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