Talk therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) doesn't appear to increase addiction treatment patients' risk of relapse, a small new study says.
Roughly a quarter of people with drug or alcohol use disorders also have PTSD, typically caused by a traumatic or stressful life event such as combat or rape.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is the leading PTSD treatment, but some providers are reluctant to use it with addiction patients. The concern is that thinking and talking about traumatic events may cause a drug or alcohol relapse.
But this study debunked that notion, showing that PTSD severity and emotional problems decreased after the first therapy session.
"Now that we have evidence that treating PTSD won't impact recovery, patients can request therapy, and mental health providers have a duty to make it available," said study author Jessica Peirce, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
For the study, her team assessed changes in 44 patients' cravings for opioids or other drugs, self-reported days of drug use, and mental health before and after starting talk therapy.
The researchers found no increase in drug use or in reported instances of stress after therapy sessions to treat PTSD. By the ninth therapy session, PTSD severity scores had dropped by 54% on average.
"There is a lot more resilience within this population than many health care providers give them credit for, and not offering the proper treatment is doing patients a disservice," Peirce said in a Hopkins news release.
The findings were recently published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.
This study was an outgrowth of a larger project by Peirce and her colleagues on how to get often-reluctant addiction treatment patients to undergo talk therapy for PTSD.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on PTSD.