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PTSD, Veterans, and Addiction: What’s the Connection?

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by a traumatic experience in a person’s life, like witnessing military combat, sexual abuse, or other significantly tragic or startling events. Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time, they usually forget the past events and continue with their daily life. If the symptoms get worse and are recurring, last for months or even years, and affect your day-to-day activities, you may have PTSD. 

The latest statistics from the National Center of PTSD symptoms in veterans show that about 8 out of 100 Americans will suffer from PTSD.


How are Veterans linked to  PTSD and Addiction?

Research shows that PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) and substance abuse problems are more frequent in people who have served in the military. The veteran population is at the highest risk for both PTSD and addiction. A large number of men and women who are serving or have served in the United States military struggle with addiction problems. 

People often try to cope with PTSD by heavy drinking, taking drugs, or smoking for indefinite time periods. This provides temporary relief and escapism from the suffering. The unchecked consumption of drugs and alcohol makes veterans more vulnerable to develop an addiction. Traumatic memories and experiences such as combat exposure and multiple deployments can trigger drug or alcohol use, which potentially leads to developing an addiction. People diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder are 3 times more likely to develop a substance abuse problem. According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, 27 percent of veterans diagnosed with PTSD also have a substance use disorder and are offered health care benefits.

Likewise, many veterans suffering from an addiction or substance abuse disorder already have co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


How Common Is PTSD in Veterans?

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, more than 2 out of 10 veterans with PTSD also have a substance abuse problem. War veterans with PTSD and alcohol problems tend to indulge in binge drinking. This is most likely due to the emotional stress, physically demanding work nature, stressful event, and/or mental strain of military warfare. Military veterans that were deployed overseas to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are at a higher risk of developing chronic PTSD, about 1 in 10.

Although most cases of combat-related PTSD are caused by combat, American veterans, of any gender, may also develop the disorder after sexual assault or harassment during their military service or experience. Sexual trauma includes sexual assault, sexual abuse, a life-threatening event, or sexual harassment. About 23 percent of female veterans have been diagnosed with military sexual trauma during their time in the military by Veteran Affairs (VA).

Veterans can have substance use disorders both before and after their deployments in service. Even if a military member doesn’t have a substance use disorder before deployment, experiencing PTSD greatly increases the risk factor of developing an addiction after returning home to their family life and everyday life.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in Military Veterans

Some signs and symptoms of PTSD in military veterans may include:

  • Memory problems
  • Low sense of self-worth
  • Lack of positive emotions
  • Relationship problems
  • Negative Emotions
  • Self-destructive, aggressive behavior 
  • Acute Stress Disorder
  • Issues with Loud Noise
  • Attitude and behavioral changes i.e. extreme mood swings, angry outbursts
  • Difficulty sleeping and concentrating
  • Reliving the trauma, upsetting memories, experiencing flashbacks, distressing memories, and having nightmares
  • Decreased appetite, hearing loss, and weight loss
  • Looking sick, such as bloodshot eyes and changes in skin tone
  • Lack of motivation and poor work performance


Addiction to PTSD Drugs and its Side Effects

Combat Veterans with PTSD have often prescribed anxiety medications, the majority of which are profoundly addictive. To control the risk of developing an addiction to PTSD drugs,  some doctors at medical centers recommend non-addictive stimulant drugs. Even veterans without prior PTSD can get addicted to painkillers recommended for battle-related wounds. All too often, veterans and service members self-medicate with alcohol and illicit drugs like heroin since they are cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription painkillers and succumb to an addiction. They develop a tolerance to their effects and symptoms of withdrawal when quitting, and even spiral into a full-blown addiction with elevated risk.


Treatment for Veterans

Effective treatments for veterans struggling with PTSD include:

  • One-on-one counseling
  • Family counseling
  • Exposure Therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Inpatient/outpatient rehab
  • Medications for withdrawal

We have special treatment programs designed for veterans who have been diagnosed with substance abuse, mental disorders, and other co-occurring mental health diagnoses. The treatment options and therapy can target both problems at the same time. The program focuses on helping veterans regain life without addiction and take control of their life.

Take Back Control of Your Life Today

In cases of serious PTSD and drug or alcohol addiction, getting immediate treatment from Mental Health Professionals is essential as it can save your life just in time. There are many qualified treatment centers and mental health provider across the US, for addicted veterans with underlying PTSD.Proper treatment helps you get to the root cause of your problem and address it with caution so it does not interfere with your day-to-day life in the present and in the future.

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