Jul 9, 2019 | By Isabel William

The Correlation Between PTSD in Veterans and Addiction

Addiction Resources

Many people around the world suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and there are many reasons for it to occur especially for veterans. However, PTSD in veterans and addiction can be also common. Mainly, PTSD occurs after an extremely traumatic situation, like a physical or sexual assault, natural disaster, terrorist attack, combat, etc. It can also be caused by witnessing a tragic event, like the loss of a friend or family member. There are many ways of dealing with it, but for many veterans struggling with PTSD, one way includes becoming addicted to either alcohol or drugs – and here’s why.

PTSD in Veterans.

In order to understand why some people cope with PTSD by using drugs or alcohol, one must first understand the symptoms of it. PTSD is not your usual stress and anxiety that makes you uncomfortable or slightly irritable. PTSD means not feeling any emotions towards things you used to love, and avoiding any kinds of reminders of the traumatic event, regardless of whether those reminders are places, items, activities, or even people. The irritability you’d usually feel when stressed out is much worse when you have PTSD. Finally, people who suffer from PTSD also experience flashbacks of the traumatic event, which means that they can never truly move on unless they seek professional help.

How Do Veterans Develop PTSD?

As mentioned, PTSD can be caused by combat as well as physical and sexual abuse. For example, about 23% of female veterans have reported being sexually abused at some point during their service. Research has also shown that female veterans are more likely to suffer from substance abuse, as all the usual problems of veterans being reintroduced into civilization are more seriously experienced by women than men.

PTSD in Veterans and Addiction

Any kind of transition in life can be challenging and stressful. However, going back to normal life after serving in the military can be especially hard. The thing is, in the military, people have structure, discipline, order, and a certain sense of duty and purpose. All of those things can sound admirable to average civilians, but the fact is that civilization as we know it is very chaotic, and those things do not have much value outside of the military. Not to mention all the “usual” things veterans have to do, like make new friends, find a decent job, find a new place to live, and navigate all the services that used to be provided by the military; they can be hard enough for an average person, let alone somebody with PTSD.

Finally, the most difficult thing to get used to is making choices. As mentioned, in the military, there is a clear structure, and there isn’t much room for choices. So, when a former service member returns to the “normal” civilian life, they are faced with many choices and no guidelines on how to make the right ones.

All of those things together can be extremely overwhelming. So, some veterans eventually start looking for ways to escape their reality, which is where addictive substances come into play.

Addiction to Prescription Medications

To help them cope with the above-mentioned challenges and PTSD, veterans are often prescribed anxiety medications as well as antidepressants. Some veterans might also be taking pain killers for their chronic pain caused by combat injuries. Unfortunately, some of those drugs can be highly addictive. So, while trying to help them, doctors might unknowingly be pushing them into an addiction. Once they do become addicted, they will start seeking their drugs compulsively because they will eventually develop a tolerance for the drugs and, consequently, need more of them to actually feel any effects.

Addiction to Alcohol

Most of us already know how alcohol works, so it doesn’t take much to understand why alcohol addiction in veterans is a common thing. After everything they’ve been through, it’s quite understandable that dealing with what they’ve seen – while struggling with PTSD at the same time – can be unbearable. However, alcohol addiction often starts even before they leave the military. For instance, research has shown that around 20% of all service members admit to getting drunk at least once a week, and this rate is even a higher for the members who’ve actually been in combat.

PTSD & Addiction Treatment Options for Veterans

With PTSD in veterans and addiction, there are more than a few options for treatment. Of course, there are the usual rehab programs, private treatment centers, as well as counseling services. However, they can also get treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs, which might be a more affordable option for some veterans. There are additionally, specific treatment centers for first responders that have begun to present themselves across the nation to address the complex needs of this demographic. 

For alcohol abuse, the best way to treat the addiction is to prevent it. This means that service members need to be provided with everything necessary in order to successfully transition back into the civilian life. If nothing gets done, PTSD in veterans with addiction can lead to all kinds of health problems, from insomnia to social isolation. Even trying to fight the addiction alone can actually do more harm than good. In short, it’s essential that if a veteran does happen to be addicted to drugs or alcohol, they are provided with professional help as soon as possible. 

Additionally, veterans may also be reluctant to search for professional help on their own. This is because the symptoms of withdrawal combined with the symptoms of PTSD can often be too much for them. Eventually, it could result in a relapse, and not many would be willing to go through that.

Speaking of social isolation, it’s extremely important that veterans are not left on their own after finishing their service. After all, there is still a certain stigma concerning mental illnesses, which means that dealing with it alone can be that much more difficult. This is why it’s essential that every military member has a support network outside of the military. Whether it’s friends, family, or people who are willing to share their own experience, veterans need to know that they are not alone. 

The correlation between PTSD in veterans and addiction at the same time is not that well-known topic in society. However, it’s very real and very serious. People with PTSD have a much harder time overcoming their addiction, and that’s largely due to simply having more reasons to run away from their reality. So, if you do happen to know any veteran struggling with transitioning, don’t just look away – show your gratitude for their service by helping them in any way you can.

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