When physicians think of drug and substance abusers, many do not consider that these individuals may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A new breakthrough study demonstrates that people who have substance use issues may benefit from psychological therapy.

Conducted by study leader Dr. Katherine Mills, patients were randomly assigned to an integrated therapy called COPE, which involved exposing patients to their traumatic memories, while treating their substance abuse at the same time. Some patients were administered treatment over thirteen 90-minute sessions with a clinical psychologist, while those in the control group received treatment only for substance use. Throughout the study and the nine month follow-up period the group of patients who received treatment along with psychological therapy demonstrated a considerable decline in PTSD symptoms, whereas the group who received only treatment did not.

According to Dr. Mills, with the high rates observed among those who received treatment for drug and alcohol use disorders, the results of the experiment were exceedingly encouraging.

"Currently a majority of people with substance use disorders are excluded from receiving PTSD treatment as there is a widely held view that patients need to be abstinent before any trauma work, let alone prolonged exposure therapy, can be undertaken. However, this is often very difficult for patients to achieve as their trauma symptoms tend to resurface when they stop using," Dr. Mills said.

Statistics shows that nearly three-quarters of Australians suffer from PTSD at least one year of their lives, and one in 10 will develop PTSD at some appointed time in their lives. A third of those who suffer from PTSD have a substance abuse disorder.

Additionally about half of the individuals receiving treatment for substance use have current symptoms of PTSD and 80 to 90 percent of these people have experienced a form of trauma during the course of their lifetime. "Our positive findings indicate that by using an integrated treatment program such as this, the many Australians who suffer from both of these conditions can be treated successfully," Dr. Mills hopes.

This study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.