Trauma and addiction are closely linked – but did you know parents of addicted children can also develop PTSD? Addressing parental trauma is an essential part of recovery – learn more here.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that can develop when you witness or experience a terrifying event. There are many other catalysts that can lead to this disorder. Any type of stressful, frightening or distressing event – as well as prolonged trauma – can cause PTSD to develop. These could include road accidents, prolonged sexual assault, being held hostage, becoming a victim of violent assault, involvement in natural disasters or terrorist events or even being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.
But what many people don’t realise is that there’s a strong link between trauma and addiction, and living with an addict can also lead to PTSD. This is particularly pronounced for parents of addicted teenagers or young adults. The stress and trauma of watching someone you care deeply about succumb to the throes of addiction is intensely traumatic.
The problem here is that parents of addicted children are often unaware that they’re at risk of PTSD. And the fact that they’re unaware that they could even benefit from treatment makes them all the less likely to seek it.
How Addiction Creates Trauma for Families
It isn’t just parents who incur trauma when a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol. This goes for anyone with a serious emotional investment in an addicted person. Watching someone you care about dismantle their own life piece by piece is traumatic, to say the least. And the emotional trauma that this induces is very real.
Sufferers are likely to experience any combination of the following symptoms of PTSD:
- Emotional or mental regressions
These feelings persist and disrupt the person’s life. Even so, PTSD is rarely talked about in the context of parents of addicted children. As a result, research and resources are largely unavailable.
PTSD Hijacks Parents’ Brains
Post-traumatic stress disorder results from emotional trauma. The part of the brain called the amygdala is responsible for storing emotional memory. When you are subject to ongoing fear responses, this part of the brain becomes hyperactive. This is why mental health professionals view PTSD as a form of amygdala hijacking.
This process can occur when a person plays a primary role in a traumatic event – say, when they are involved in armed conflict or an accident. But this is by no means the only criterion. For parents, watching your own child slowly suffer is every bit as traumatic as becoming a victim – some would say even more so. But in any event, it certainly triggers the amygdala.
In this sense, both the young person who is struggling with addiction and their parent (or parents) watching them suffer have become victims of a brain-based disease. There’s no reasoning with someone who is suffering on this level. Instead, they require dedicated, professional treatment for addiction-related trauma.
This hijacking of the amygdala brings about neurochemical changes in the brain. While these changes bring about mental and emotional symptoms, they’re still physical in nature. And as we’ll see in the next section, they can have strong physical repercussions for parents.
Parents with Addiction-Related Trauma Experience Physical Changes
When you suffer from PTSD, you find yourself in a constant state of panic. Imagine, for example, the panic that any parent would experience upon witnessing their child enter an unresponsive state after overdosing. Now imagine what it’s like if this occurs more than once.
And there are many other panic-inducing moments that are possible in the life of a young addict: dropping out of school, repeatedly driving away significant others or failing at work can all contribute to a persistent state of dread for parents.
But it doesn’t stop with emotional stress – parents may find themselves suffering from physical ailments as well. Intense stress induces several physical responses such as:
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased cortisol production
- A spike in adrenaline
- Heightened blood pressure
- Increased respiration
All of the above take their toll on the body, but this is by no means the end of the physical fall-out that a parent with PTSD may endure. Research has found that sufferers of PTSD also experience more pronounced physical symptoms like cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal issues and musculoskeletal symptoms.
Even When a Young Person Gets Sober, Parents May Still Suffer
For parents of an addicted youth, all they want to see is their child leading a healthy and productive life, free of addiction. But even when their teenager or adult child becomes clean and sober, parents of addicts may still suffer emotional trauma from the experience they endured.
It’s difficult for parents to see beyond the trauma that their child has experienced due to addiction. Even so, it is important that they seek treatment for the trauma they’ve experienced, too. There are many avenues to healing for parents in this situation:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Exposure therapy
- Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Group therapy
Family Addiction Treatment at The Edge Rehab
If your child is suffering from addiction, we understand that the first order of business is helping them establish a new and healthier way of life that is free of addiction. The team at The Edge rehab centre can assist with this. We specialise in helping young men aged 18 to 28 recover from addiction.
But that’s only one aspect of recovery. It’s also absolutely essential that you, the parent, seek treatment for the trauma you’ve experienced. Our highly qualified mental health professionals can assess whether or not you’re suffering from PTSD and help place you on the path to wellness. Contact us today to find out more.