Last Updated on December 27, 2023 by Dr. Alberto Solà

Ibogaine Therapy for PTSD and Addiction

It’s not surprising that in many cases, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and addiction go hand in hand. In fact, according to the post, as many as 50% of people who have survived violent or abusive trauma report alcohol use disorders.  Other studies differ slightly but not drastically; many people who suffer from PTSD also battle simultaneous addiction of some kind, and the reverse is also true.  Also, there are a lot of data that people who suffer from PTSD are between two and four times more likely to also battle addiction than their non-PTSD-affected peers. No matter what source you consult, it’s clear that PTSD and addiction often emerge together as one in response to serious trauma, and as a result, it is extremely important that sufferers receive a dual diagnosis of both, and are in turn treated for both conditions at the same time.

PTSD can be caused by truly any traumatic event, but some of the most common include military combat, serious accidents and injury, natural disasters, acts of terrorism, sexual or physical assault during childhood or as an adult, or death of a loved one.  It appears often in victims of domestic violence, refugees, and children in the foster care system, and in veterans of war.  The Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs’ website states that an estimated 7.8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women (10.4%) twice as likely to develop it as men (5%).  About 5% of U.S Adults aged 18 to 54 (13 million people) have PTSD during the course of a given year.  The National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) confirms that according to their research, seven or eight people out of every one hundred will experience PTSD in their lives.

Unfortunately, PTSD can last for months or even years after a traumatic event, and without help from a professional therapist, can continue on indefinitely.  This disorder changes brain chemistry in much the same way that substance abuse and addiction do; often, they form at the same time and feed off each other.  PTSD sufferers may hide their drug and alcohol abuse from others because they feel ashamed of it.  If a loved one seems intoxicated frequently and is trying to hide it, he or she may be suffering from combined PTSD and addiction, and should be encouraged to seek help.

Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD may appear immediately after the trauma, or it might take years for it to develop.  This disorder impacts the parts of the brain associated with memory and emotions.  A healthy brain can tell the difference between the past and the present, but PTSD interferes with this process.  Something in a current environment may remind the sufferer of past trauma, and the brain will respond as if it is happening at present, and will trigger feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress.  If the individual experiences these feelings over and over with no relief, it can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, and further, suicidal thoughts, which can be compounded further by using and abusing these intoxicating substances.

PTSD symptoms are generally classified into four categories:

  • Avoidance – Sufferers of PTSD often wish to avoid talking about their traumatic experience and may try to completely stay away from people, places, or things that are reminders of the event.
  • Changes in Emotional Reactions – PTSD sufferers may have a negative image of themselves and others, may have distorted feelings of guilt, and may experience emotional numbness.
  • Intrusive Memories/Re-experience – Individuals with PTSD may experience flashbacks, frightening thoughts, internal re-experience of the trauma, nightmares, and extreme physical reactions to reminders of the event.
  • Cognition and Mood Symptoms – Someone with PTSD may have difficultly keeping close relationships and may have a hard time sleeping.  He or she might experience intense irritability, have lapses in memory, and may feel incapable of having positive emotions altogether.   The individual may even find that he or she is no longer interested in activities he or she once enjoyed.

As a result of these symptoms, after recalling a traumatic event, the body experiences an endorphin withdrawal, which has many of the same symptoms as a withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, such as anxiety, depression, emotional distress, and physical pain.  If the individual is a drug or alcohol user, this can also result in increased cravings for drugs and alcohol, which can lead to further abuse and addiction in a very short time.

Science of PTSD and Addiction

Whether it’s the actual traumatic experience itself or simply remembering it and re-living it, this decrease in endorphin production can be difficult for anyone to handle.  As a result, people with PTSD often turn to alcohol and other mood-enhancing drugs to find the happiness they seek, or they may turn to these substances to help relieve their feelings of depression, anxiety, and irritability.

When someone feels stressed, their levels of GABA (gamma-amniobutyric acid) are lowered and adrenaline production increases.  GABA helps to level out our feelings and keeps them from getting too intense.  Unfortunately, drugs can simulate this process, and therefore many sufferers of PTSD are drawn to drugs and alcohol to replace this depleted natural chemical.  Things like opioids, alcohol, and benzodiazepines work well to replace GABA, but have obvious negative side effects and all three are highly addictive.  Further, drugs also increase the presence of dopamine in the brain, which is a chemical messenger that makes us feel happy; when the drugs wear off, the user is unfortunately right back where he or she started, and will return quickly to a depressive state.

Repeated use of drugs makes it more difficult for the brain to naturally regulate the amounts of dopamine, adrenaline, and GABA that are being released into the body.  Withdrawal of the drugs and alcohol will continuously plunge the user back into anxious or unhappy states, which results in more drug abuse, which can quickly lead to addiction.  When people with PTSD self-medicate against their pain and struggles with drugs or alcohol, they are headed down the path to drug and alcohol addiction, even faster than an individual who does not experience PTSD symptoms.

Treating PTSD and Addiction

PTSD and addiction need to be treated simultaneously for success and optimal results.  An integrated treatment plan for PTSD and substance abuse should include individual psychotherapy to help handle substance abuse triggers, group counseling with others who have the same dual diagnosis, family counseling to help strengthen relationships and support systems, and membership in ongoing group counseling to build a network of additional assistance.  Many PTSD sufferers who are also addicts benefit from exposure therapy to help them lean how to face their fears and traumas, and even something as simple as regular physical exercise can help greatly, as exercise helps to release the endorphins the sufferer surely needs.

Ibogaine Treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Ibogaine treatment for addiction is often referred to as “addiction interruption,” that is, ibogaine gives the addict an opportunity to go through an experience that will help him or her view the addiction through fresh eyes with a clear mind. Many individuals who have sought and experienced ibogaine treatment report a sort of “reset” that, for most, leaves them with no craving or further craving for their drug of choice afterward. In this way, ibogaine can be an effective medication to those experiencing PTSD as well. Ibogaine helps individuals deal with their drug dependency, but the experience can also help the person work through the emotional issues at the root of their addiction. PTSD sufferers have a great deal of emotional trauma, and ibogaine can help them to balance their minds in a natural way that can lead them towards healing.

People who have gone through the ibogaine experience to work on PTSD describe it as comparable to ten years of therapy compacted into a short time.  Some people have said it gave them a chance to relive a traumatic event from an observer’s point of view.  During the ibogaine experience, they were more easily able to forgive and move toward closure.  Ibogaine is very personal, and can help the individual reach places and understandings more quickly than traditional therapy can, and can help people break free of the chronic depression, anxiety, and irritability that so commonly accompanies PTSD.  The internal inquiry inspired by ibogaine use can assist in helping people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol move forward mentally and emotionally on both their addiction and side effects from their past trauma.  Certainly, ongoing counseling will be necessary for both, even after the ibogaine experience, but it is undoubtedly a great place to start the healing process in a deeply personal, life-changing, and effective way.

PTSD and addiction are two powerful forces in the lives of all afflicted.  When they are both present in an individual, the possibility of beating them both may seem impossible.  However, with a dual diagnosis, the right treatment, and the desire for change, there is hope.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Clear Sky Recovery if you’d like more information about what ibogaine can do for you and the ways in which ibogaine treatment may fit into your unique situation and set of circumstances.  We’re here to help.