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How Complex PTSD Leads to Addiction

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (or complex PTSD) has been gaining much attention lately from studies to social media. This form of trauma is not always obvious and can take years to diagnose. Like other forms of trauma, complex PTSD leads to addiction, depression, and other debilitating conditions.

What Is Complex PTSD?

Many traumatic events can be traced back to one moment in time. For example, when a person experiences a car accident, acts of war, or even a sexual assault, the trauma may have happened at just one time. Even though the trauma may have happened at a specific moment, its effects can last for a very long time.

Complex PTSD, however, is a bit different. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), complex PTSD is considered “chronic trauma” that “continues or repeats for months or years at a time.” Individuals with complex PTSD usually experience prolonged, repeated trauma. The VA even mentions that a simple PTSD diagnosis cannot cover the full scope of complex PTSD.

History of Complex PTSD

In the 1980s, Dr. Judith Herman proposed complex PTSD as a way to describe long-term trauma. According to the World Journal of Psychiatry, Herman suggested complex PTSD as a clinical syndrome that follows traumatic events, usually prolonged in duration. These traumatic events frequently occur in childhood, and they are of an “interpersonal nature.” Repeated abuse and neglect during childhood years could lead to complex PTSD. Constant yelling, screaming, and even listening to arguments between parents or guardians could also be a prolonged form of trauma.

PTSD and Complex PTSD

According to a 2021 study in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, complex PTSD is a “distinct post-traumatic stress disorder” that includes characterizations in addition to the core symptoms of PTSD.

The study says these characterizations appear in “three domains of self-organization”:

  • Affective dysregulation, or a dysregulated nervous system
  • Negative self-concept, or a low self-perception
  • Relational difficulties or trouble forming relationships with other people (and with the self)

Complex PTSD leads to many symptoms that do not necessarily stem from just one traumatic event. It may even be more difficult to diagnose this condition because it does not lead to just one moment in time.

Signs and Symptoms

In order to know whether or not you may be affected by complex PTSD, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms. The VA mentions different symptoms originally proposed by Dr. Herman. These include:

  • Behavioral difficulties, like impulsivity, aggressiveness, alcohol and drug abuse, and self-destructive behavior.
  • Emotional difficulties, like rage, depression, and panic.
  • Cognitive difficulties, like dissociation and changes in one’s personal identity
  • Interpersonal difficulties, like chaotic relationships with others
  • Somatization, or storing traumatic energy in the body, leading to many medical visits

More Negative Effects

Aside from its regular signs and symptoms, complex PTSD leads to many negative effects in day-to-day life. For example, individuals may feel permanently damaged and useless, as if there is always something wrong with them. They may also feel constantly threatened, leading to antisocial and hostile behaviors.

Lack of a proper diagnosis can make individuals feel like there is something wrong with them, especially if they’re unable to feel true joy and happiness. They may even believe they should be punished or that they’re undeserving of real fulfillment in life.

When Complex PTSD Leads to Addiction

Many people experiencing addiction may feel like they cannot get to the bottom of it. They may question how they developed an addiction in the first place, especially when they cannot pinpoint a specific traumatic event. Complex PTSD leads to addiction in many cases. Constant exposure to trauma, no matter how big or small, can have a devastating effect on one’s life. The European Journal of Psychotraumatology suggests that complex PTSD places itself in close proximity to other disorders that are “marked by emotional dysregulation.” Loss of identity, self-control, depression, and addiction are just some of the added issues.

When Complex PTSD Leads to Negative Self-Concept

The concept one has of oneself is, simply enough, called one’s “self-concept.” Many people who experienced repeated trauma in childhood can carry a low self-view with them well into adulthood. It’s important to note here that complex PTSD can often be made up of “smaller” traumas over time. Everyone’s trauma is their own, no matter how “big” or “small.”

Yelling, arguing, screaming, and even mental abuse can cause a child to feel like they always do something wrong. It can also get in the way of a strong sense of self. These feelings can be carried into adulthood and feed into a low self-concept. Complex PTSD leads to issues like addiction when a person feels low self-esteem or when they lack a strong sense of self.

How to Get Help When Complex PTSD Leads to Addiction

If you’ve been struggling with complex PTSD and other conditions like addiction, The Guest House can help. We are a trauma-specific recovery center that specializes in co-occurring disorders. Our specialized blend of traditional and holistic therapies will allow you to find methods that work best for your unique journey. At The Guest House, you can also break free from the never-ending cycle of complex PTSD and addiction by exploring fun and innovative therapies to support you.

Our wide range of therapeutic modalities includes tried-and-true talk therapy, where you can learn how to gently open up and talk about your trauma. Group therapy is another mainstay of our program, where you can confide in peers who understand your struggles. Long-term recovery and lasting happiness are possible when you’re a guest at The Guest House.

Complex PTSD leads to co-occurring disorders like addiction, depression, and anxiety. Instead of having a definitive date of occurrence, complex PTSD refers to consistent and repeated traumas that happen over time, usually in childhood. At The Guest House, we specialize in trauma-specific care that can help you get to the root of addiction and other self-destructive behaviors. If you’re struggling with complex PTSD, our wide range of innovative therapies combined with traditional modalities will allow you to explore the methods that work best for your unique journey. No matter what your personal struggles may be, you will be sure to find the support you need for long-lasting recovery at The Guest House. Call us at (855) 483-7800.