how to help someone with ptsd and addiction

How to Help Someone With PTSD and Addiction

PTSD is a complicated condition that can be overwhelming for people who suffer from it and their loved ones. People with the condition may feel as though they will never get over the trauma that left them feeling anxious, fearful and emotionally shattered. If you know someone with PTSD, you may be confused by your loved one’s unpredictable behavior. You can be a positive source of support if you know how to help someone with PTSD and addiction.

How PTSD and Addiction Affect Loved Ones

Someone with PTSD can be volatile. One moment, they’re happy, productive and calm, and the next, they could be angry, aggressive or withdrawn.

You walk on eggshells around them because you’re afraid to trigger them. Sometimes, you feel like you don’t even know who they are.

Someone with PTSD can’t just turn off their symptoms. Although you might take it personally when they become irritable or reserved, you need to know that you’re not to blame for their reactions. Your friend or family member’s nervous system is stuck in a state of fight-or-flight. They’re on edge because they’re in psychological shock.

People with PTSD can dissociate from their lives. They may be sitting with you, but they’re completely disconnected. They act like they’re in a different world.

PTSD and addiction go hand in hand. People with this condition may turn to substances to numb their emotions. Sleep problems, reckless behavior, moodiness, addiction disorders and difficulty concentrating are common symptoms of PTSD. People with this condition often try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.

Because the condition influences brain chemistry, it leaves someone highly susceptible to developing an addiction. Mood-enhancing drugs can boost endorphin levels. An addiction might develop because substances work along the same neural pathways as the neurotransmitters that are affected by PTSD.

If someone you live with is suffering from addiction or PTSD, they may not be able to go about their daily routines. This can leave you with a lot of responsibilities on your hands. You may wonder how you’re supposed to live your life while tending to their needs.

It’s especially difficult to understand what’s going on when your loved one won’t open up to you. Learning how to help someone with PTSD and addiction can allow you to thrive while being a stable force in the other person’s life.

Show Up for Them

People who are struggling to cope with trauma tend to isolate themselves. For many people with trauma, being alone means that the threatening encounter has stopped. Therefore, even after the event, they feel the safest when they’re by themselves. They may even try to remain alone to hide an addiction.

But social support and face-to-face interaction is essential for recovery. Let your loved one know that you’re available if they need you.

You can’t force someone to talk or open up about their emotions and experiences, but you can let them know that you’re willing to listen. Accepting them for who they are is important. You can hold space for someone by walking alongside them in their journey.

Don’t judge them, try to fix them, shame them or make them feel inadequate. Sometimes, people with PTSD just need to know that they can feel safe in the presence of someone else. Talking may be a trigger. Be willing to just hang out with them without discussing the issue.

Encourage Them

It can be tough to see someone with PTSD hide away from the world or take part in self-destructive behavior. Try to involve them in healthy, everyday activities if you can. Take them out to lunch, or invite them to join you for yoga. Encourage them to pursue their hobbies. You might be able to help someone get out of the cycle of PTSD and addiction by keeping them busy with meaningful, fulfilling activities.

Remember not to put pressure on your loved one, though. People with PTSD may get overwhelmed by doing “normal” things, and they might feel like a failure if they can’t live up to high expectations.

If the individual is dealing with an addiction, you can encourage them to seek help. You cannot be their therapist, but you can support them in their search for a professional who can counsel them through the addiction and PTSD symptoms. A support group can also help someone manage an addiction and co-occurring disorders.

Establish Security and Trust

People with trauma see the world as a dangerous place. This can trickle down into their interpersonal relationships.

Someone with this disorder might:

• Have trouble with intimacy
• Feel anxious around other people
• Have trouble connecting with others
• Experience difficulty managing emotions
• Push people away
• Sabotage relationships
• Use addiction as an excuse to avoid others

As someone who loves them, you want to show that you’ll be there for them. However, you can’t bend over backward for them or neglect to care for yourself.

Sometimes, people with PTSD have trouble accepting support. They may feel that getting close to someone causes them to let down their guard, which makes them feel vulnerable and exposed. They may even try to push you away to avoid feeling that way.

It can help to attend therapy sessions with your loved one if you’re struggling with trust issues. You can learn how to set healthy boundaries and establish a routine that makes them feel secure.

Some ways that you can encourage trust between yourself and your loved one include:

• Letting them know that you’re committed to them
• Establishing guidelines and routines
• Only making promises that you can keep
• Reminding them of their strengths

Talk About Triggers

PTSD can be triggered by a variety of things, including hunger, fatigue, stress, certain types of weather, sensory stimuli associated with the trauma and significant events. Triggers are different for everyone.

Talking to your loved one about their triggers can help you both be prepared when they hit. Create a plan to respond to those triggers. Ask your loved one how you can support them when they’re feeling fearful, anxious, avoidant or overwhelmed. If
an addiction is involved, discuss that too.

Working together with a therapist can help you come up with a game plan. It can also give you the tools to assist your loved one when they’re having a panic attack, flashback or addiction craving.

Some things that you can do when someone is experiencing a trigger include:

• Encouraging them to breathe slowly
• Raising their awareness of their surroundings
• Avoiding sudden movements
• Asking before you hug or touch them

Remain calm, and give your loved one space. Taking a time out from the situation or changing the scenery can help.

If you think that your loved one might hurt themselves or someone else, call 911.

Take Care of Yourself

Do you neglect your own needs because you’re trying to pick up the pieces for someone else and keep the peace? You can’t use your cup to fill someone else’s if yours is empty. The best way to maintain the energy and mental balance that you need to help someone else with addiction or a psychological condition is to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself.

You are strong, but you’re human. Don’t suffer in silence. Seek support from a therapist or counselor so that you can better understand your loved one and ensure that you’re in full alignment with your own needs. It’s ok to put yourself first so that you can be there when your loved one needs support.

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