9/11, PTSD & Connections to Recovery

Students who will enter high school this year will be the first who learn of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks as history, rather than through recollection.  They have no memory of a clear September morning being shaken apart with interrupting news coverage, civil defense alarms, and near national panic. 9/11 gave many American’s their first personal understanding of what living with PTSD is like: many report experiencing nightmares and depression for years afterwards, particularly after renewed news coverage of the anniversary every year. Many statistics offer support for the idea that the number of people presenting with substance use disorders grew dramatically after September 11th. The same treatments we turn to for PTSD can help people with substance use disorders

A multi-faceted approach yields positive results

Post-traumatic stress disorder can best be explained as ongoing, persistent, or intermittent feelings of stress, anxiety, panic, and danger, even when in safe circumstances, usually resulting from a traumatic event. Not all traumatic events lead to PTSD, which has been shown to have demonstrable effects on both the emotions and the physical body. Because PTSD is not simply “in someone’s mind,” treatment usually consists of multiple modalities, such as talk therapy, medication, education, exposure, mindfulness and meditation. Many treatment protocols include yoga or other exercises designed to focus on the body in the present, as well as art or nature, such as pet or equine therapies.

Do these sound a lot like the most effective practices for helping people with substance use disorders? That’s not a coincidence. Just as PTSD can’t be cured via “willpower,” people with substance use disorders require a wide array of assistance. Trauma is like substance use, in that people who have experienced it may be triggered or experience relapses, such as returning to substance use. People with substance use disorders experience physical and mental changes which necessitate treatment for the ‘whole person’ in order to be most effective. PTSD itself doesn’t cause or create a substance use disorder; however, it may be the catalyst along with other issues that predisposes a person to the disorder.

We know from research done on people in recovery from substance use disorders that it takes social, physical, and emotional support in order to heal. These same elements both protect against and assist in recovery from PTSD, though developing PTSD should never be seen as a weakness or personal failing. Like substance use disorders, PTSD can arise in healthy people. Rather than seeking to lay blame or point fingers, we can focus on a multi-sensory, cross-channel approach to treatment that research has shown to be effective for both people with PTSD and those with substance use disorders.

One way to engage in the personal development so crucial to the healing process is to set personal goals, such as returning to school or completing a degree. The Ammon Foundation Scholarship provides financial assistance for people in recovery from substance use disorders to continue their education paths. Our blog provides profiles of awardees, and information about how to apply.