Alcohol Abuse Can Make Veterans’ PTSD Symptoms Worse

Veterans faithfully serve our country to protect our freedoms and ensure our national security. Sadly, many veterans must cope with significant trauma once they are discharged from the military, especially if they saw combat. This Veterans Day, Decision Point Center explores the relationship between alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is tragically common among veterans.

Drinking alcohol may seem like a way to temporarily forget the excruciating traumatic memories of the past, especially for veterans who went on missions exposing them to arduous or life-threatening experiences. The PTSD they face may cause them to experience intrusive thoughts and unwanted memories and nightmares, and the avoidance of triggering activities. They may feel on edge all the time, be irritable, or self-destructive.

One of the more self-destructive tendencies among veterans is to abuse alcohol to numb the pain of their trauma. Alcohol can only temporarily relieve psychological distress, and afterward, the symptoms always return. This causes a disastrous vicious cycle as the body develops a tolerance very quickly and the veteran has to ingest more drinks, more often, to feel the desired effect. Unfortunately, alcohol addiction can develop very quickly, especially in veterans who have PTSD.

How Common Is PTSD in Veterans?

Veterans may overdrink as a way to self-medicate, or as a way to get to sleep and avoid having triggering nightmares. Unfortunately, going to sleep while drunk can impair sleep quality, and avoiding bad memories by trying to numb the pain by drinking can actually prolong PTSD rather than making it better. Continuing to drink also makes any PTSD treatments much less effective, and having both PTSD and alcoholism makes both problems worse.

While not all veterans have PTSD upon discharge from the military, it is very prevalent. Veterans affected by PTSD varies by service era. For example, while World War II veterans came home as heroes with a unanimous victory and everyone could relate to what they had gone through, every subsequent war, from the wars in Korean, Vietnam, the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan, there has been a smaller pool of people who are able to relate to the returning veterans’ experiences.

When a veteran comes home from deployment and has no one to talk to or relate to them about their experiences, they have more trouble relating to others and may seek solace from alcohol.

  • Vietnam War: About 15% of Vietnam were diagnosed with PTSD at the time of a study in the late 1980s (The National Vietnam Veteran Readjustment Study), and estimates show that about 30% of these veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, as many as 80% of Vietnam War veterans seeking PTSD treatment have abused alcohol, and many are binge drinkers.
  • Gulf War/Desert Storm: About 12% of these veterans have PTSD in a given year.
  • Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom: As many as 20% who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in any given year. 

Military Sexual Trauma & PTSD

Sexual harassment and sexual assault occurs at an alarming rate in the military and can happen during peacetime, training, or during the war. About 23% of women who use VA healthcare have reported sexual assault while in the military, and about 55% of women and 38% of men have experienced sexual harassment in the military. Of course, there are far more male veterans than female veterans, so even though military sexual trauma is more common in female veterans, over half of all veterans reporting sexual trauma are male.

Getting Help for PTSD and Alcohol Problems

At Decision Point Center, we offer personalized trauma therapy for patients suffering from co-occurring alcoholism and PTSD and other dual diagnoses. Successful recovery from PTSD and alcoholism looks different from one veteran to the next, but a holistic therapeutic regimen can successfully treat both at the same time. At Decision Point Center, our drug rehab offers supportive counseling and teaches new coping mechanisms to confront your PTSD and live a more fulfilling, sober life where you don’t have to worry about getting drunk to feel relief.

You don’t have to bear the burden of PTSD and alcoholism any longer. Contact us at Decision Point Center today by dialing (844) 292-5010 to speak to a member of our caring staff.

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