What is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and How Does it Impact Recovery?

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You may be familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but there is a more severe form called complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). The prevalence rate for C-PTSD and PTSD are comparable, with a difference of only 0.4%. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with C-PTSD, it is helpful to understand more about the disorder and how it can impact recovery from substance use disorders (SUD). PTSD and C-PTSD commonly co-occur with SUDs. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, over 46% of people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder also fit the criteria for substance use disorders. 

The Difference Between C-PTSD and PTSD

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is caused by prolonged exposure to trauma – often taking place over years or even decades. PTSD, on the other hand, can develop from any form of trauma, including witnessing other people experiencing trauma. 

Common causes of C-PTSD include the following:

  • Childhood physical or sexual abuse
  • Child exploitation
  • Domestic abuse
  • Sex trafficking
  • Being imprisoned in a concentration camp or as a prisoner of war

Common Therapies and Treatment

There are multiple accepted treatments and therapies for people with C-PTSD. The various treatments provide relief from the symptoms and present healthy coping skills to improve quality of life. Not everyone will benefit from these in the same way due to the individual nature of trauma. Some of the most common treatments are listed below. 

  • Prolonged Exposure (PE): PE is a cognitive-behavioral therapy that encourages participants to gradually learn to tolerate thoughts, feelings, and stations associated with the trauma. Over time the exposure may eliminate the trauma response. 
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a psychotherapy that uses a particular eye movement combined with a physical stimulus and talk therapy to process traumatic memories and desensitize them. 
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): CPT is a cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on analyzing and reframing thoughts and beliefs related to the trauma. 

Prescription medications often treat some of the more severe symptoms of C-PTSD. You will want to consult with your doctor to determine what, if any, medications may be right for you. 

C-PTSD and the Risk of Developing an Addiction

C-PTSD has a high risk of leading to SUD. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that people with these conditions often self-medicate to try and treat the symptoms. C-PTSD is often the result of childhood trauma. Research has shown a definite link between prolonged childhood trauma and addiction. One 2010 study from the Emory University School of Medicine in Georgia concluded that “the level of substance use, particularly cocaine, strongly associated with levels of childhood physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as well as current PTSD symptoms.”

How C-PTSD Can Affect Recovery 

People with C-PTSD are at a higher risk of abusing alcohol, drugs, or other substances as a way to cope with their condition. Emotional triggers that can cause cravings also tend to be more severe and intense. Relapse is not uncommon, especially if the individual refuses to get treated for their C-PTSD during recovery. A few C-PTSD symptoms that can affect recovery include struggling with developing trust and forming healthy relationships, difficulty controlling emotions, and a strong sense of guilt or self-condemnation related to the trauma. 

Have Realistic Expectations About Managing Symptoms 

Realistic expectations are essential when in recovery with a dual diagnosis of C-PTSD. Conditions like this change the brain and other vital body systems in a way that can affect moods, behavior, or thinking patterns. The best way to cope is by getting proper treatment and actively working to overcome obstacles. That is incredibly hard work, and you may have trouble with feeling motivated to stick with it. 

Create a set of goals, figure out the personal outcome you would most like to see, and then use that to keep you motivated as you move through your recovery and navigate the symptoms of C-PTSD. Make sure that you expect realistic results from yourself. 

Build Up Your Coping Skills

Coping skills and learned behaviors will help you find new ways to behave and think. C-PTSD is a lovely condition that leaves you feeling unable to connect with or truly trust others, but that does not have to be a permanent situation. You can work with a therapist or psychiatrist to find ways around your triggers so that you can live a full and happy life. Build up your coping skills until you have a comprehensive list of tried and true techniques that you can use to stay sober. 

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is a severe condition caused by prolonged exposure to traumatic events. Recovering from a substance use disorder while also dealing with the side effects of C-PTSD and its treatments would be difficult for anyone. If you find yourself struggling to remain sober while going through therapy to help with your C-PTSD, you are not alone. Everlast Recovery Centers is a facility where you can get the treatments you need. We have a dedicated and compassionate staff who want to see you succeed. There is no need to work alone to overcome the challenges facing you. We want to ensure that you find the proper treatment to help you feel safe and healthy. No matter where you are in your journey Everlast Recovery Centers is here to help you reach your full potential. To learn more about us, reach out today by calling us at (866) 338-6925

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