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Several hypotheses may explain the association between substance use, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression. However, few studies have utilized a large multisite dataset to understand this complex relationship. Our study assessed the relationship between alcohol and cannabis use trajectories and PTSD and depression symptoms across 3 months in recently trauma-exposed civilians.
In total, 1618 (1037 female) participants provided self-report data on past 30-day alcohol and cannabis use and PTSD and depression symptoms during their emergency department (baseline) visit. We reassessed participant's substance use and clinical symptoms 2, 8, and 12 weeks posttrauma. Latent class mixture modeling determined alcohol and cannabis use trajectories in the sample. Changes in PTSD and depression symptoms were assessed across alcohol and cannabis use trajectories via a mixed-model repeated-measures analysis of variance.
Three trajectory classes (low, high, increasing use) provided the best model fit for alcohol and cannabis use. The low alcohol use class exhibited lower PTSD symptoms at baseline than the high use class; the low cannabis use class exhibited lower PTSD and depression symptoms at baseline than the high and increasing use classes; these symptoms greatly increased at week 8 and declined at week 12. Participants who already use alcohol and cannabis exhibited greater PTSD and depression symptoms at baseline that increased at week 8 with a decrease in symptoms at week 12.
Our findings suggest that alcohol and cannabis use trajectories are associated with the intensity of posttrauma psychopathology. These findings could potentially inform the timing of therapeutic strategies.
Dissociative symptoms can emerge after trauma and interfere with attentional control and interoception; disruptions to these processes are barriers to mind-body interventions such as breath-focused mindfulness (BFM). To overcome these barriers, we tested the use of an exteroceptive augmentation to BFM, using vibrations equivalent to the amplitude of the auditory waveform of the actual breath, delivered via a wearable subwoofer in real time (VBFM). We tested whether this device enhanced interoceptive processes, attentional control and autonomic regulation in trauma-exposed women with dissociative symptoms.
65 women, majority (82%) Black American, aged 18–65 completed self-report measures of interoception and 6 BFM sessions, during which electrocardiographic recordings were taken to derive high-frequency heart rate variability (HRV) estimates. A subset (n = 31) of participants completed functional MRI at pre- and post-intervention, during which they were administered an affective attentional control task.
Compared to those who received BFM only, women who received VBFM demonstrated greater increases in interoception, particularly their ability to trust body signals, increased sustained attention, as well as increased connectivity between nodes of emotion processing and interoceptive networks. Intervention condition moderated the relationship between interoception change and dissociation change, as well as the relationship between dissociation and HRV change.
Vibration feedback during breath focus yielded greater improvements in interoception, sustained attention and increased connectivity of emotion processing and interoceptive networks. Augmenting BFM with vibration appears to have considerable effects on interoception, attention and autonomic regulation; it could be used as a monotherapy or to address trauma treatment barriers.
Moral injury exposure (MIE) and distress (MID) may indirectly affect the relationship between trauma exposure and alterations in autonomic regulation [assessed via high-frequency heart rate variability (hfHRV)] in civilians, but this has not been tested in prior research. We conducted two exploratory studies to examine trauma types' associations with MIE and MID among civilian medical patients (Study 1) and explore how these facets may indirectly affect the relationship between trauma type and hfHRV among civilians seeking mental health services (Study 2).
Participants recruited from a public hospital and/or community advertisements (Study 1, n = 72, 87.5% Black, 83.3% women; Study 2, n = 46, 71.7% Black, 97.8% women) completed measures assessing trauma type, MIE, and MID. In Study 1, trauma types that emerged as significant correlates of MIE and MID were entered into separate linear regression analyses. Trauma types identified were included as predictors in indirect effects models with MIE or MID as the mediator and resting hfHRV (assayed via electrocardiography) as the outcome.
Childhood sexual abuse emerged as the only significant predictor of MIE, b = 0.38, p < 0.001; childhood sexual abuse, b = 0.26, p < 0.05, and adulthood sexual assault, b = 0.23, p < 0.05 were significant predictors of MID. Participants with greater MIE and MID demonstrated lower hfHRV. Adulthood sexual assault showed an indirect effect on hfHRV through MID, B = −0.10, s.e. = 0.06, 95%CI (−0.232 to −0.005).
Moral injury was uniquely associated with sexual violence and lower hfHRV in civilians. Data highlight moral injury as a pathway through which autonomic dysregulation may emerge and its salience for trauma treatment selection.
The symptoms of functional neurological disorder (FND) are a product of its pathophysiology. The pathophysiology of FND is reflective of dysfunction within and across different brain circuits that, in turn, affects specific constructs. In this perspective article, we briefly review five constructs that are affected in FND: emotion processing (including salience), agency, attention, interoception, and predictive processing/inference. Examples of underlying neural circuits include salience, multimodal integration, and attention networks. The symptoms of each patient can be described as a combination of dysfunction in several of these networks and related processes. While we have gained a considerable understanding of FND, there is more work to be done, including determining how pathophysiological abnormalities arise as a consequence of etiologic biopsychosocial factors. To facilitate advances in this underserved and important area, we propose a pathophysiology-focused research agenda to engage government-sponsored funding agencies and foundations.
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