What Does Acute Stress Disorder Have to Do with Substance Abuse?

posted in Recovery, Treatment

Trauma and stress are part of the journey of being alive. Big and small trauma can intercept a person’s life at any time, without notice.

Unfortunately, many people experience trauma severe enough to cause PTSD, depression, and other types of conditions associated with traumatic experiences. Symptoms can drive people to self-medicate and use substances to overcome the symptoms.

Just getting by each day is tough for some people with Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). Find out why it co-occurs along with substance use and how to help a loved one struggling with the condition. 

Substance Use

Someone who abuses substances for long periods of time usually deals with chronic health conditions. This can be heart, lung, or other physical ailments but also includes mental health concerns.

Sometimes, those concerns are underlying as the reason why the person began substance use in the first place. There may be traumatic experiences from the past, neglect, and abuse that occurred and they never got professional help.

Once a person stops using drugs, those triggers can pop off and they start to remember things they tried to suppress, they may experience unhealthy coping skills that they tried to stop doing and are at high risk for relapse without help from professionals. Their physical body is also adjusting to the absence of substances by going into withdrawal, which can be difficult for some and lethal for others, depending on the amount of use and for how long.

Stress disorders can occur after the brain has been intercepted with substances for a long period of time and does not have time to recuperate. 

Chronic Stress and the Brain

Research on PTSD focuses on these mental health issues and trauma because it receives lots of attention. However, untreated acute stress disorder cases often lead to PTSD.

Precursors to PTSD can look like mental health issues that don’t need much attention, but they are desperately needing someone to find them support before it becomes really difficult to manage. Turning to substances as a means of coping with stress is nothing new for people with addiction.

It is one of the main reasons people use drugs or drink alcohol excessively. Since substance use disorders are also connected with high-stress situations, people often face an increased chance of trauma.

When Trauma Happens

The fact is, people experience trauma at different points in their lives ranging from little to big impact. Some channel energy into school or work.

Other people act as nothing happened. Others may react intensely out of fear, guilt, or shame.

People may lash out at friends and family while also wanting to be left alone. They may desire more time isolated and away from people, socially withdrawn and even agoraphobic.

Fear or anxiety of going out in public can be a result of past trauma. When people deal with acute stress, they often don’t cope well with the initial reactions.

They begin to struggle with how to handle the ups and downs of their journey while being in denial about the pain they are in. People who seek treatment are more likely to heal from it and find support for treating the condition.

Treatment Options

The best treatment options for acute stress and addiction are dual diagnosis therapy and treatment. Although it may be difficult to find the right program, it is important to look at developing tolerance skills that reduce the severity of symptoms and encourages positive coping mechanisms.

Medication may help address residual anxiety, depression, or sleep-related problems. Dual diagnosis treatment can look at the layers of a person’s life and determine where in their past they may have encountered stressful moments or experiences that triggered stress responses and mental health issues.

There is a higher risk of relapse for people who go to therapy and treatment because their bodies and minds are vulnerable. Their individual needs are so acute at that moment, they need to be taken seriously.

Outpatient, inpatient, detox, and transitional housing are all viable options for people with addiction and acute stress disorder. It depends on the person, what they desire, and how they seek treatment.

Letting Go

After coping for so long with a mental health condition, it is difficult to let go and face the facts without denying the need for help. It may take loved ones pursuing a family member to get them into treatment.

Maybe they have been ready for a long time. Maybe they need to prepare their hearts and get themselves ready. It may be time to pursue a new avenue instead of being mentally ill and struggling with substance use, let it go.

Accept the time has come to receive help and support. Just that little bit of letting go of control and help someone slip into the role of receiving support, care, and love they need to thrive.

Support from loved ones will be critical. If they know all those people are waiting on the other side of recovery to support their journey, they can continue moving into treatment with confidence.

Otherwise, it may be scary and frustrating to think they are alone. Don’t let that person feel they are alone. Come around and support them and they will likely be more open to the idea of going to treatment.


Forge helps people with addiction transform their lives for the better. We are here to support you on the journey to recovery. Call today: 1-888-224-7312