What is Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD, also known as Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, can be a debilitating mental health condition that is the result of severe psychological harm over the long term. In this article, you’ll learn the difference between CPTSD and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, how having CPTSD can lead to drug addiction, and the treatment options available. 

Complex PTSD vs PTSD

PTSD is defined as an anxiety disorder and mental health disorder that is caused by exposure to traumatic events that involved the possibility or occurrence of death, violence, or serious injury. Exposure can include being a victim of the event, witnessing the event, or being close to someone who experienced the event. Most events associated with PTSD last for a short period of time. 

Complex PTSD is defined as prolonged or chronic trauma, which involves trauma occurring repeatedly over the course of months or years. 

Symptoms of Complex PTSD

The symptoms of Complex PTSD are similar to PTSD symptoms, with a few variations. Symptoms include:

  • Changes in behavior
  • Having bursts of anger
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Being startled easily
  • Frightening thoughts
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling guilty
  • Feeling tense
  • Experiencing nightmares
  • Feeling like you are reliving the trauma
  • Having extreme stress from traumatic memories
  • Avoiding people and/or activities
  • Feeling depressed or anxious
  • Experiencing negative thoughts about themselves and the world

Additional symptoms specific to complex trauma/repeated trauma include:

  • Difficulty with emotional regulation, feeling consistently sad or angry
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Cognitive difficulties including dissociation
  • Unhealthy or stressful personal relationships
  • Isolating and having a general distrust of others
  • Feeling despair and hopeless 
  • Having a self-perception of being different from other people, along with feelings of guilt and shame
  • Having distorted perceptions of the perpetrator (when applicable), such as giving power to the perpetrator

Causes of CPTSD

The exact causes of Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder are still being determined and there’s much about the condition that doctors and researchers are still learning. However, it is believed that Complex PTSD is caused by:

  • Trauma having long-term effects on specific parts of the brain (including the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex)
  • Sexual abuse that occurs for months or years (including childhood abuse)
  • Emotional or physical trauma that occurs for months or years
  • Experiencing neglect throughout childhood
  • Being a prisoner of war

Again, there might be additional causes of CPTSD, as the research to understand it is ongoing.

Risk Factors for Developing CPTSD

There are several risk factors that can increase an individual’s chances of developing CPTSD:

  • Having an underlying mental illness
  • How the brain regulates hormones in response to stress
  • Various lifestyle factors including not having a supportive community
  • Long-term sexual abuse, physical abuse, and/or emotional abuse

While the above experiences and circumstances might increase the risk of someone developing this mental health condition, anyone can develop Complex PTSD.

Substance Abuse and CPTSD

It’s common for Complex PTSD and drug or alcohol addiction to exist together. When someone experiences symptoms of CPTSD, they might try to deal with their feelings by drinking or using drugs as a way to escape or cope. Trauma can also change the level of endorphins produced by the brain, resulting in someone attempting to improve their mood through drugs or alcohol. 

When either of the above situations occurs, this behavior can quickly escalate to addiction. 

Treatment for CPTSD

There are several ways to address and treat PTSD that is complex. It’s important to note that CPTSD will not improve or go away without treatment. 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) from mental health professionals
  • Medications, including anti-anxiety medications
  • Exposure therapy, where indivdiuals encounter their memories in a safe space

In cases where CPTSD, drug addiction, and mental health issues co-occur (including depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder) addiction treatment can be very effective with the various treatments and programs:

Get Treatment Today

Enlight Treatment Center in Ventura, California provides effective therapies and treatments that enable clients to fully concentrate on solving their addiction issues and regain hope and optimism about their future. In addition to dual diagnosis treatment, we also offer detox and inpatient rehab programs. 

If you or a loved one has a drug or alcohol addiction and is struggling with mental health disorders, were are here to help. 

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