American soldiers have been engaged in one war or the other for decades in different corners of the globe. And, with war there are traumas attached. In the recent history, the Vietnam War started a problem, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan followed suit. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders among veterans returning from combat. Substance abuse also forms a substantial proportion of the combat veterans’ problems.
Wars are traumatic; it can render scars so deep that it affects a person mentally and physically. Veterans are the most affected. For many, the devastating impact of war remains long after it ends. Their mind continues to store a battlefield of torturous, demoralizing and stressful memories which affect their mental health in a big way.
Stress experienced by military veterans can make them prone to both alcohol use and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some veterans try to cope up with PTSD by indulging themselves in drinking, smoking and drugs. In fact, people with PTSD have an increasing problem of alcohol abuse. There is always a possibility that pre-existing alcohol abuse can give rise to post-traumatic psychiatric maladjustment. Moreover, even if a person doesn’t have a drinking habit, getting PTSD can increase the risk of alcohol abuse.
How common is PTSD and alcoholism in veterans?
Frequent heavy drinking, defined as consuming five or more drinks on one or more occasions per week, occurs among a substantial proportion of U.S. military personnel and veterans are no exception.
In a study – “Longitudinal assessment of mental health problems among active and reserve component soldiers returning from the Iraq war” – by Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, published by JAMA in 2007, 12 to 15 percent of the 88,235 veterans returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) endorsed problematic alcohol use in three-six months following their return from combat.
Many literature suggest that exposure to combat also impairs psychological functioning in veterans, making PTSD the most common diagnosis. According to the website of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), more than two of 10 veterans with PTSD also have substance use disorder (SUD) and almost one out of three veterans seeking treatment for SUD also has PTSD.
Moreover, the veterans suffering from PTSD and alcohol problems are generally binge drinkers. The habit may have arose due to bad experiences and memories of combat trauma. In Iraq and Afghanistan wars, about one in 10 returning soldiers seen in VA were suffering from alcohol and drug addiction.
Alcohol abuse complicates the recovery process of PTSD among veterans and vice versa. The presence of PTSD has also shown to obstruct recovery from alcoholism and other related substance misuse. The co-occurrence of an alcohol use disorder with PTSD creates a substantial barrier to recovery from both the disorders.
However, an integrated treatment which addresses both the conditions can prove to be beneficial for the military veterans. Since they have an experience of combat and related traumas, individual or group psychotherapies like cognitive behavioral therapies help in the recovery process. Special PTSD treatments like cognitive processing therapies can help lessen the stress coupled with medications.
If your loved one is a soldier or a veteran trying to cope up with co-occurring disorders, please don’t hesitate to seek medical help. The California Dual Diagnosis Helpline can help you find a dual diagnosis treatment center which is equipped with medical and psychotherapeutic treatments. Chat online or call at 855-980-1736 anytime for assistance.