With Memorial Day, our thoughts are turned to our brave soldiers who have passed on. Sadly, a growing number of those who have served our country are dying each day as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In fact, an average of 22 veterans commit suicide each day in the United States (source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs [VA]). In a year, this amounts to over 8,000 soldiers who proudly served to protect our freedoms. Even more disturbing is the fact that a substantial number of these individuals struggled with both PTSD and substance abuse.
Understanding The Link Between PTSD And Substance Abuse
After a trauma, such as witnessing and living in the devastation of war, it is extremely common to suffer after-effects such as anxiety, depression and insomnia. When these symptoms do not go away, it is considered to be post-traumatic stress disorder. In the case of soldiers, the events that can cause PTSD often go on for an extended period of time. Thus, it is quite common in those who return home from war. According to the VA, nearly 30% of their patients have the condition.
Due to the lack of treatment resources and because of symptoms that can be very difficult to live with, many veterans with PTSD self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. There have been many studies that have shown a strong link between PTSD and substance abuse in both civilians and veterans. In veterans, statistics from the VA are very telling:
- One in five veterans with PTSD also has a substance abuse disorder.
- One in 10 returning soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan has a problem with either alcohol and/or drugs.
- War veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism tend to binge drink.
How Drugs And Alcohol Worsen PTSD
Veterans who have PTSD and who struggle with substance abuse often also have relationship difficulties, physical pain, sleep disturbances or challenges holding down a job or staying in school. By using drugs or alcohol, symptoms of PTSD only get worse which compounds these other issues. Thus, it turns into a vicious cycle that is hard to stop. It is sometimes referred to as a cycle of “avoidance,” and it can cause the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder to worsen and continue on indefinitely.
Treating The Co-Occurring Disorders Of PTSD And Addiction
There is substantial evidence that shows that the best treatment option for veterans who have both PTSD and a substance abuse disorder is a professional mental illness and addiction treatment program.
By focusing on the co-occurring disorders, the treatment can be focused on breaking the cycle and healing. In a program that treats co-occurring disorders, there is often a variety of treatments used to treat the body, mind and spirit including:
- Detoxification treatment
- Individual or group cognitive behavioral therapy
- Specialized treatment for PTSD
- Family therapy
- Medications to help manage symptoms of PTSD
- Trauma informed care sessions
- Relapse prevention
What Should You Do?
If you have a loved one who is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and they need help for an addiction to drugs or alcohol, the first step is reaching out. They don’t have to struggle with these conditions alone.