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Can PTSD and Addiction Be Treated Together?

New research suggests that PTSD treatment can be effective even for addicts who aren't yet clean.

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Many PTSD sufferers are addicts, and vice
versa. Photo via

By Valerie Tejeda

08/16/12

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Simultaneous treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction may be more effective than previously thought, as Fix columnist Maia Szalavitz explains for Time Healthland. Many people suffer from both PTSD and addiction. But most experts have previously thought that PTSD treatment shouldn't take place until the addict is sober—largely due to the belief that trauma treatment may trigger relapse. However, a new study from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, suggests that PTSD treatment may be effective even without a period of abstinence. Researchers examined 103 people with both conditions as they underwent exposure therapy (in which a patient is exposed to traumatic memories) and found the therapy to be effective, regardless of a patient's continued drug use. “These findings challenge the widely held view that patients need to be abstinent before any trauma work, let alone prolonged exposure therapy, is commenced,” the authors write. “Findings from the present study demonstrate that abstinence is not required.” The study also found that despite exposure therapy requiring patients to face past traumas, it didn't cause them to increase their drug use or drop out of treatment. Michael Farrell, director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Center at the University of New South Wales, says of the study: "The exciting thing in my view is that it supports people with drug and alcohol problems having access to other forms of psychological interventions, rather than being fobbed off and told to sort out their alcohol or drug problem first."

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