Over the course of the past decade, more and more information regarding post-traumatic stress disorder and opiate abuse has been uncovered. All of the information points towards concrete evidence that the two are closely interlinked; that post-traumatic stress disorder leads to opiate abuse, or that opiate abuse leads to unresolved trauma. The National Library of Medicine published a study entitled, “Comorbid Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Opiate Addiction: A Literature Review.” The study explores the connection between unresolved trauma and opiate addiction, and ultimately concludes that they are closely related regardless of which disorder precedes the other. The study also suggests that it is difficult to determine which disorder came first, because the symptoms of one disorder often mimic the symptoms of the other. Those who suffer from a severe traumatic experience will often turn to drug abuse as a means of self-medication, and what with the rise of opiate abuse over the course of the past several decades, opiate addiction and PTSD are common comorbid disorders.

An excerpt from the aforementioned study reads, “There is evidence that opioid substitution therapy may improve treatment outcomes for opioid addiction in patients with comorbid PTSD and opioid dependence.” Essentially this means that those suffering from post-traumatic stress and opiate addiction benefit from drugs like Suboxone, which help to reduce psychological cravings while reducing the symptoms of withdrawal. At Guardian IOP, we offer medication assisted treatment to those who are suffering from PTSD and opiate abuse simultaneously. However, we understand that dual diagnosis treatment will vary significantly on a person-to-person basis. That is why our highly personalized recovery program features an in-depth psychological assessment upon arrival, which will help our team of dedicated, professional medical, psychiatric and therapeutic professionals develop a treatment plan that will cater specifically to all individual needs and requirements.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder refers to a severe mental health disorder characterized by a group of symptoms that significantly disrupt daily life. In order for one to suffer from PTSD, they do not necessarily need to suffer from a trauma first hand – they may witness a trauma, such as the death of a loved one, that emotionally devastated them for years to come.
Common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder include:

  • Flashbacks of the specific event or group of events that leads to uncomfortable feelings or unmanageable emotions.
  • Nightmares that involve flashbacks of the specific events or the group of events.
  • Physical reactions to triggers (reminders of the traumatic event) such as uncontrollable shaking, sweating, heart palpitations or stomach issues (nausea or vomiting).
  • A complete disinterest in activities that used to be enjoyed.
  • Lack of motivation when it comes to completing daily tasks or personal obligations.
  • Feelings of emotional numbness.
  • Feelings of detachment and dissociation.
  • Memory loss, usually to do with remembering significant moments of a traumatic event, or remembering the event altogether.
  • Avoiding people, places and things that may conjure memories of the traumatic event.
  • Feeling like day-to-day life is extremely strenuous/not feeling “normal.”
  • Blaming oneself for the trauma, or blaming others and acting aggressively towards others as a result.

In the most recent publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), post-traumatic stress disorder is described as having at least one several listed stressors and at least one of several listed symptoms. Stressors include situations and experiences that are especially stress-inducing or anxiety producing. According to the DSM-V, these might include:

  • Directly experiencing the trauma, such as living through a sexual assault or experiencing a natural disaster or a significant accident.
  • Witnessing a trauma first hand, such as watching a family pass away or watching military comrades pass away during combat.
  • Learning that a loved one has experienced a trauma. This is relatively rare, and only common among those with empathetic qualities. For example, an empath who has learned that his or her best friend has been raped might develop PTSD.
  • Exposure to trauma via being a first-responder. This is common amongst firefighters, medics, police officers and crisis counselors.

What is Opiate Addiction

In the mid 1990s, pharmaceutical companies began to produce narcotic painkillers in order to treat those suffering from moderate to severe pain. These prescription painkillers included name brands like OxyContin, Hydrocodone, Percocet, Morphine, Codeine and Dilaudid. When these prescriptions first entered the market, medical professionals were assured by pharmaceutical companies that they were extremely safe to use and would not cause any health-related complications, so they began prescribing them rather frequently. The truth of the matter was that they were extremely habit-forming – even when taken as directed.

Unfortunately, many individuals who were prescribed potent prescription opioids developed psychological and physical addictions, and experienced a wide range of side effects as a result. One of the more serious and life-threatening side effects is overdose – there are a significant number of opiate-related overdose deaths every year, and numbers continue to rise on an annual basis. In 2018, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that 128 people in the United States experienced an opioid overdose every single day. Opioid abuse and addiction is a serious and persistent national crisis, one that greatly affects a wide range of things on a national level, from the general welfare of human beings to economic stresses and financial strains. Take a look at the following facts and statistics involving opioid abuse and opioid-related overdose.

Facts and Statistics

  • Roughly 80 percent of American adults who are currently addicted to heroin first began abusing opiates, usually prescription opioids that were given to them by a close friend or family member.
  • It is estimated that between 21 and 29 percent of patients that are prescribed a prescription painkiller by a medical professional will end up abusing it.
  • It is also estimated that between 8 and 12 percent of the men and women who abuse the opioid narcotic they are prescribed will develop a dependency. It is possible for abuse to occur without a dependency developing.
  • Roughly 80 percent of American adults who abused heroin first also abuse prescription painkillers when they are readily available.

Treating PTSD and Opiate Addiction

At Guardian IOP, we are dedicated to helping those with dual diagnosis disorders overcome their addictions and mental health issues and go on to lead healthy and productive lives. We understand how painful suffering from unresolved trauma can feel, and how helpless those who have attempted to quit with no success might feel. We also understand how much opiate addiction can worsen the effects of PTSD, and vice versa. The two disorders are closely intertwined, and in order for long-term recovery to be achieved they must be treated effectively and simultaneously. Our team of compassionate and dedicated professionals are predominantly cross-trained in addiction and trauma, and are able to provide a thorough program of comprehensive care – one that is both personalized and intensive. If you or someone you love has been struggling with opiate addiction and PTSD, give us a call today to learn more about how to receive the help that is both needed and deserved.


Reviewed for accuracy by:

Anna earned her Masters of Social Work at Barry University in Miami, FL in 2017 and completed her internship in co-occurring disorders. Anna has a Bachelors of Art in Religious Studies from Naropa University and is a certified yoga and meditation instructor. Anna has received specialized training in somatic counseling with an emphasis on body-centered psychotherapy.