The link between PTSD and alcohol abuse in veterans has been long known, yet its effects have only recently been understood. PTSD is a mental health disorder that can develop after someone has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. For many veterans exposed to the horrors of combat, their trauma often leads to this mental illness. Unfortunately, individuals suffering from this condition are more likely to use alcohol to cope. As a result, alcohol abuse can be seen as both a symptom and cause of PTSD.
What Is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. People with PTSD may relive the traumatic event through the following:
- Flashbacks and nightmares
- Experience emotional numbness
- Feelings of guilt, depression, anxiety, and fear
- Avoidance of reminders of the event
- Difficulty sleeping
- Hyper-vigilance and irregular heart rate
PTSD can affect anyone regardless of age, race, sex, or ethnicity. It can also occur after a natural disaster, a car accident, abuse (verbal, physical, or sexual), or war-related events. Those who suffer from PTSD may find it difficult to perform day-to-day tasks, have trouble forming relationships, and struggle with work or school.
Treatment for PTSD can involve psychotherapy, medication, group therapy, and alternative therapies; these may include art therapy and mindfulness meditation. Those suffering from PTSD should seek help to reduce their symptoms and live a more fulfilling life.
What Is Trauma?
Trauma is a type of psychological injury that can result from experiencing or witnessing an exceptionally distressing event. It often involves intense feelings of fear, helplessness, and loss of control. People who have experienced trauma may feel emotionally overwhelmed, experience flashbacks or nightmares, and have difficulty trusting others. Trauma can also lead to physical health problems, including chronic pain, headaches, digestive issues, and sleep disturbances.
Trauma can affect both the mind and the body in profound ways. On a mental level, trauma can lead to intense emotions such as fear, guilt, shame, confusion, anxiety, and depression. It can also cause difficulty sleeping or concentrating. On a physical level, traumas may manifest through nausea/digestive issues, headaches/migraines, fatigue, or physical pain. Trauma can also lead to dangerous behaviors such as self-harm, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.
How Does Trauma Impact Veterans?
Trauma can have a significant impact on veterans and their families. War-related trauma can lead to physical, emotional, and psychological distress. Physical effects of trauma can include chronic pain or illness, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, headaches, memory issues, and more. Emotional and psychological impacts may include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or substance abuse.
Some physical and psychological effects of trauma may last for years after a veteran’s service is completed, making it difficult to reintegrate into civilian life. In some cases, these symptoms can interfere with veterans’ abilities to work, maintain relationships, care for themselves, and live independently.
Veterans who have experienced trauma may also struggle with feelings of guilt, shame, and hopelessness. They may feel isolated from their friends and family members and be reluctant to seek help or talk about their experiences. Veterans should understand that the effects of trauma are normal responses to abnormal situations. Talking with a mental health professional can help them work through their feelings and find healthy ways to cope.
How Debilitating Is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can have a devastating impact on individuals who experience it. It typically develops in response to a traumatic event, such as an accident, violent act, natural disaster, or other life-altering experience. Symptoms of PTSD can include intrusive thoughts and memories of the trauma, flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, irritability or outbursts of anger, and avoiding reminders of the event.
Over time, these symptoms can lead to physical and mental distress that can significantly interfere with a person’s ability to live a full and productive life. People living with PTSD may experience depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse problems, relationship issues, and even thoughts of suicide.
What Is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one’s health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work. People who suffer from alcohol abuse drink excessively despite the negative consequences. They may continue to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol even when it does the following:
- Strains their relationships
- Leads to problems at work
- Causes physical and mental health issues
Symptoms of alcohol abuse include drinking more than intended, being unable to control or reduce intake, and experiencing cravings for alcohol. People with alcohol abuse may also lie to cover up their drinking, put themselves in dangerous situations while under the influence of alcohol, and neglect responsibilities at home or work due to their drinking habits. In extreme cases, alcohol abuse can lead to alcoholism (alcohol dependence) and other serious health problems.
What Is the Connection Between PTSD and Alcohol Abuse in Veterans?
Veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have a higher risk of developing alcohol abuse problems. This is because many PTSD sufferers will use alcohol to self-medicate their symptoms, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks. Alcohol can temporarily suppress these symptoms and provide a sense of relief from the pain and distress associated with PTSD.
However, alcohol can also increase feelings of guilt and shame in PTSD sufferers, which can exacerbate their symptoms over time. This can lead to a vicious cycle of self-medication with alcohol in an attempt to reduce the intensity of memories and emotions associated with trauma, followed by guilt and shame for succumbing to the compulsions.
Research has also found that veterans who display higher levels of PTSD symptoms, such as hyperarousal, depression, and anxiety are more likely to engage in hazardous drinking. This is because alcohol can act as a form of self-medication by temporarily suppressing these PTSD symptoms.
What Treatment Options Are Available for Those Suffering From PTSD and Alcohol Abuse?
The effects of trauma can be long-lasting and require professional help to address. Trauma treatment may include the following:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Relaxation techniques
- Medication or a combination of these approaches
- Dual diagnosis
It is important to seek help as soon as possible if you or someone you know is struggling with the effects of trauma. Treatment can help reduce emotional and physical symptoms, improve relationships with others, and create a sense of safety and stability.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that utilizes a variety of cognitive and behavioral techniques to help individuals identify, challenge, and change their distorted or maladaptive thinking patterns, as well as their negative behaviors. CBT has been demonstrated to be effective in treating a range of mental health disorders. CBT helps clients to become aware of their thought patterns and how they affect their emotions and behavior. Through this awareness, individuals can learn to challenge their negative thinking patterns and replace them with more positive ones.
Psychotherapy is a form of mental health treatment that focuses on helping individuals identify and work through their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to improve overall well-being. It is a collaborative process between the client and therapist that typically involves talking about difficult issues or problems out loud.
Through this process, clients can gain insight into themselves while also learning healthier ways to manage stress, heal from trauma, and improve relationships. Psychotherapy can also provide emotional support when facing life changes or other challenging experiences. Ultimately, psychotherapy can help an individual develop new skills and strategies for living a more satisfying life.
Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) is a type of treatment for substance abuse, such as alcohol or opioid addiction, that uses medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to help people manage their addiction. MAT can help reduce the risk of relapse by providing targeted medical interventions and improving patient outcomes.
Medication-assisted treatments can be used in conjunction with other forms of care, such as individual therapy and support groups. While medications are not a cure for addiction, they can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms to make the recovery process easier. MAT also allows individuals to more effectively engage in counseling and behavioral therapy sessions, which can provide long-term benefits for overall health and well-being.
Dual diagnosis, also known as co-occurring disorders, is a term used to describe when someone is experiencing both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder concurrently. This means that the individual has been diagnosed with both a mental illness and an addiction.
Dual diagnosis can be a difficult condition to manage because both mental illness and the addiction need to be treated. Treatment for dual diagnosis often requires an integrated approach. This could include medications, counseling, therapy, and peer support.
Westwind Recovery® Can Assist Veterans Struggling with PTSD and Alcohol Abuse
Westwind Recovery® offers comprehensive treatment for those who suffer from PTSD and alcoholism. We believe in taking an individualized approach. Everybody has different experiences and contexts in their lives; we believe their treatment should reflect that. If you or a loved one would like to find out more, you can contact us here.
Dr. Deena is the Chief Clinical Officer of Westwind Recovery®, an award-winning outpatient treatment center in Los Angeles where she oversees the clinical and administrative program and treatment methods. Dr. Deena is a doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker since 1993. LCSW #20628. Originally from the East Coast, Dr. Deena has worked running treatment centers, worked as a therapist in psychiatric hospitals as well as school settings and currently has a thriving private practice in the LA area. Dr. Deena has appeared regularly on the Dr. Phil Show as an expert since 2003. She has also been featured on many other TV shows, podcasts and has contributed to written publications as well as podcasts.