Acute Stress Disorder And Addiction: Signs & Treatment

Acute stress disorder can be very challenging to deal with. As a result, people may turn to substances as a coping mechanism. It is important to seek treatment as soon as possible to prevent or treat addiction.

Acute stress disorder (ASD) and substance abuse can often occur simultaneously. This is one example of a dual diagnosis.

It is not uncommon to experience both stress disorders and addiction. An estimated 7.7 million Americans live with mental illness and drug abuse.

People with ASD are at an increased risk of developing a drug or alcohol addiction. It’s crucial to seek treatment as soon as possible after a traumatic event to prevent this.

Unfortunately, the stigma attached to drug use may prevent some people from seeking treatment. For this reason, compassion and empathy are extremely important after trauma.

What Is Acute Stress Disorder?

Acute stress disorder typically develops after a person experiences a shocking, traumatic event. These events usually happen abruptly and can cause a drastic change in a person’s life.

It is one of the newer diagnoses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM-V, and there is still much to learn about its effects.

Some examples of this trauma include:

  • sexual or physical assault
  • natural disasters
  • serious accidents
  • death of a loved one

ASD can begin developing immediately after the traumatic event occurs and last for up to four weeks. If it persists longer, it may meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Around 80% of people with untreated ASD receive a PTSD diagnosis later on. Co-occurring PTSD and substance use disorder are also common.

How Common Are Substance Use And ASD?

ASD is diagnosed when the symptoms of posttraumatic stress begin to inhibit a person’s ability to live a healthy, happy life.

There are around 2 million adults with substance use disorders, and 38% of them have a co-occurring mental illness.

Some people, like women or people with preexisting mental health disorders or anxiety disorders, may be more likely to encounter ASD in their lives.

The Connection Between Acute Stress Disorder And Addiction

People handle traumatic experiences in different ways. Some may turn to physical distractions like work, while others find solace in drug or alcohol abuse.

When substances are used as a form of self-medication, they may provide temporary relief from negative emotions. Over time, this can result in dependency, cravings, and withdrawal.

When substances begin to impact a person’s functionality, mood, or behavior, it can be categorized as a substance use disorder (SUD).

How Does Drug And Alcohol Use Affect Acute Stress Disorder?

Alcohol abuse, benzodiazepine abuse, and opioid abuse are common during a period of post-traumatic stress due to their numbing effects.

They may be used in an attempt to induce sleep or escape negative feelings. Stimulants and amphetamines may also be used to synthesize feelings of happiness or productivity.

The combination of negative emotions and substances can lead to risky behavior or even chronic stress since the emotions are not processed in a healthy way.

The Dangerous Effects Of Substance Use And ASD

Using substances during a period of ASD carries many risks besides addiction. It can worsen stress symptoms, cause or increase suicidal thoughts, or lead to physical problems.

Substance abuse can interfere with the lungs, brain, or heart. The cardiovascular system in particular is vulnerable after a traumatic event, and this can be made worse with substances.

The individual may damage their ability to cope with stressors normally. Addiction can rewire the brain to crave substances, which becomes more difficult to handle over time.

Can Acute Stress Disorder Cause Substance Abuse?

The symptoms of stress disorders can be challenging to deal with, especially when they are not treated promptly by professionals. People turn to substances as a form of self-medication.

Short-term substance use can quickly transition into drug addiction with prolonged exposure. People may experience withdrawal symptoms or a desire to suppress their emotions again.

This can establish a pattern of behavior that ultimately leads to a substance use disorder.

Signs Of Acute Stress Disorder And Substance Abuse

Co-occurring acute stress disorder and addiction can manifest in different ways, but there are some common symptoms that can allude to a problem.

There is some overlap between the symptoms of PTSD and the symptoms of ASD.

A person with ASD may experience:

  • avoiding triggers
  • hyperarousal
  • flashbacks
  • inability to experience positive emotions

Signs of drug or alcohol abuse include:

  • physical or mental impairment
  • disengaging from loved ones or hobbies
  • reliance on substances to function
  • running out of money

Sometimes the symptoms between a SUD and a mental illness appear similarly. Physical signs of substance use in combination with behavior changes may point to a larger problem.

Being aware of all sides of the issue is important when it comes to treatment planning.

Some symptoms of co-occurring disorders include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • changes in appearance
  • irritability
  • impulsive or reckless behavior

How Acute Stress Disorder And Addiction Are Treated

The most common treatments in psychiatry for ASD and drug addiction or alcohol use disorders are a combination of substance abuse therapy and medications.

Medications that may be used to treat addiction and acute stress disorder include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, Suboxone (for opioid dependence), or Naltrexone (for alcohol dependence).

In serious cases of substance abuse or alcohol abuse, an inpatient stay at a treatment facility may be necessary to aid the patient through withdrawal or cravings.

In less severe cases, an outpatient treatment program can be enough to get the person back on track.

The prevalence of SUD in people with ASD makes it crucial to treat co-occurring disorders at once to prevent relapsing or developing comorbid PTSD.

With proper substance abuse treatment, patients with acute stress disorder and substance use disorder can expect to recover and learn healthy coping skills to prevent future stress episodes.

The best treatments options for ASD and addiction are:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • group and individual therapy
  • psychotherapy
  • exposure therapy
  • medical detox
  • medication for depression or anxiety
  • relapse prevention

Find Help For Substance Use Disorder

If you or a loved one are experiencing co-occurring acute stress disorder and substance abuse, you are not alone. Behavioral health is complex, but our treatment providers can help.

Spring Hill Recovery Center offers a range of addiction treatment options and mental health care for recovery.

Our treatment center provides both inpatient rehabilitation and outpatient programs. Contact us today to learn more.

  1. - Acute Stress Disorder and Addiction: What you Should Know
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse - Comorbidity: Substance Use and Other Mental Disorders
  3. National Library of Medicine - Acute Stress Disorder
  4. SAMHSA - Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders
  5. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs - Substance Use Disorders

Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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