Addicted Families and PTSD
Although we know many people become addicts in an attempt to deal with PTSD, addicted families are often left
suffering the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) themselves. “Addicted families,” for the context of this article, refers to those loved ones who have one or more close family members caught up in the cycle of addiction. When those addicts are nominally living under the same roof as non-addicted others, suffering becomes the norm.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is most often associated with violence, but it is not a requirement. War trauma, rape, accidents–these all come to our minds easily enough. However, long haul pain experienced when caring for an addict is implicated in PTSD, too. We’re really only now learning that PTSD doesn’t need horrible violence to get established. People under long-term pressure may experience uncontrollable flashbacks that are completely immersive, trouble sleeping, fatigue, and bouts of terror that leave them unable to leave home. This doesn’t set in necessarily during a loved one’s addiction. It can start after the person gets into recovery. However, the emotional backlog is still brewing among concerned others, and the addict finds them overreacting to small issues.
What kinds of things build up to cause PTSD in family members? Think of overdoses. The addict disappearing for days or weeks. Fear at the sound of the phone ringing, just knowing the news will be bad. Near-death experiences caused by not only overdose, but infections and accidents. People in the deep grip of addiction have poor immune systems, lousy concentration, an overestimation of how much they’re in control, and a serious underestimation of how much danger they’re in—all of which contributes to many, many late night phone calls. Events like these cause the concerned family’s general level of worry and anxiety to go sky high. Olympus Mons on Mars high. Therein lies the paradox of PTSD: the more familiar type is established through exposure over a brief period to highly traumatic events, or long term stress and anxiety that becomes so conditioned, breaking that anxiety requires professional care.
Family therapists with experience treating traumatized families are a great choice for this situation. Often, family therapists are noted by the qualification or title of Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT), which designates a professional counselor who’s trained specifically for interfamilial situations.