Research Shows Benefits of Combining Treatments for PTSD and Substance Abuse

A new study shows people who are treated for both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse have improved PTSD symptoms, without an increase in severity of substance dependence.

The researchers say the results counter the common belief that treating PTSD might worsen substance abuse, by bringing up negative memories, CNN reports.

The study used prolonged exposure therapy, which is considered to be one of the most effective treatments for PTSD, the article notes. Patients work with therapists to return to their traumatic event. They describe it in the present tense, allowing them to relive the trauma. As this process is repeated, the brain reacts less severely to the trauma over time. This makes the memory appear less traumatic.

In the study, 103 participants with both PTSD and substance abuse were randomly assigned to receive either prolonged exposure therapy plus substance abuse treatment, or to receive only treatment for substance abuse. After nine months, both groups had reduced PTSD symptoms. Participants who received combined treatment did not show an increase in substance abuse severity.

The findings appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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    August 16, 2012 at 12:44 PM

    This article sounds like the authors (of the article, not the study) were surprised to find that the concurrent treatment of co-morbid disorders actually treats both disorders instead of ignoring one. I am not familiar with COPE, but I know that Seeking Safety has demonstrated a lot of good results in reducing BOTH PTSD symptoms and substance use. I could only access a summary of the study, but it seems that there was not much change reported in substance use in the study–the COPE intervention just didn’t make it worse.

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