Understanding the Relationship Between PTSD and Opioid Use Disorder

veteran with ptsd and opioid use disorder

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder people can develop after witnessing or experiencing a life-threatening event. PTSD may cause intrusive memories, adverse changes in thinking and mood, alterations in physical and emotional reactions, and avoidance. The elevated response associated with these symptoms, including hypervigilance and exaggerated startle, can be unbearable, causing those with the disorder to turn to drugs like opioids to alleviate their suffering. 

PTSD and Substance Use Disorder

There is a strong relationship between substance use disorder and PTSD. According to the VA, nearly one out of every three veterans seeking treatment for substance use disorder also has PTSD; and one out of every four veterans with PTSD also has substance use disorder. 

Alcohol use disorder is the most common, taking up 42% of co-occurrences. Nicotine accounts for about 38%, while other substance use disorders, including opioids, stimulants, sedatives, etc., make up about 22%. 

Because opioids are often categorized with other substance use disorders, it is difficult to know precisely how many co-occurrences exist with PTSD. What we do know is that the prevalence of opioid use disorder is higher among those with PTSD than among those without PTSD.

The VA reported a 37% relative increase in the number of patients in the VA treated with opioid use disorder in addition to a new PTSD diagnosis from 2004 to 2013.

The Relationship Between Opioid Pretreatment and PTSD

In some instances, opioids can be an effective method to treat trauma, but it also has drawbacks. Aside from being addictive, opioid use, whether prescribed or obtained illegally, can lead to PTSD down the road. 

One study, Chronic opioid pretreatment potentiates the sensitization of fear learning by trauma, looked at the relationship between opioids and fear learning by trauma, which is associated with PTSD. Researchers treated mice with morphine for a week. Then, they gave the mice relatively strong foot shocks. After the morphine wore off, the researchers gave the mice mild foot shocks. 

The mice given morphine had a more extended freeze response than the control group, which did not receive an opioid. A freeze response occurs when the mice recognize fear, and the longer the freeze, the more significant the perceived threat. The result suggests that opioids may affect fear response and increase the risk of developing PTSD-like symptoms.

It’s important to note this particular study only shows a relationship between taking opioids before the traumatic experience and not after. 

The Importance of Understanding PTSD and Opioid Use Disorder

PTSD and opioid use disorder are devastating conditions that can co-occur. By understanding the relationship between the two, healthcare professionals can identify risk factors and take steps to treat or prevent them from occurring in the first place.


A Solution to the Opioid Crisis

ZICOH will utilize a secure database integrated with AI to form a unique software architecture and advanced patented technology, making it the first device of its kind to enable effective communication through the drug supply chain, from drug manufacturers to wholesalers, distributors, pharmacists, providers, physicians, caregivers, and patients. The device can be programmed to dispense the medication dosage amount, type, and frequency to patients according to the health care provider’s orders and delivery schedule. Each of its features helps ensure patient compliance and patient follow-up, consequentially reducing the risk of addiction and overdose.

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