Everlast Recovery Centers

Military Service, PTSD, and Addiction

Most Americans honor veterans and respect their service to their country. Yet many don’t understand the full consequences and long-term effects of combat or why so many suffer long-lasting effects such as depression, homelessness, substance abuse, and suicide. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) all too often comes home with them from overseas. This mental disorder, in particular, can lead to and complicate addiction. Part of honoring our veterans includes understanding and treating this disorder and the addiction that often ensues.

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs when you experience a major shocking event or trauma in your life and it has lasting effects that create mental health issues. It’s most commonly associated with veterans in the military who have served in combat and suffered effects afterward. We once called it “shell shock” and “battle fatigue” because of its close association with military service. 

Some of the symptoms include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Flashbacks
  • Aggression
  • Relationship problems
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Substance abuse to self-medicate for the trauma

Multiple deployments and engaging in combat contributed to a 56% increase in alcoholism among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans surveyed in 2008. It’s no coincidence that 13.8% were also diagnosed with PTSD during that survey. How many were left undiagnosed and continue to suffer? Misdiagnosis and failure to diagnose PTSD remain a problem and many veterans commit suicide without ever being diagnosed.

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, military combat veterans with PTSD and alcohol problems can develop a predisposition toward binge drinking. Binge drinking is when you drink a lot of alcohol in a short time–say, 4 to 5 drinks in a short time span of about one or two hours. 

But PTSD doesn’t strictly affect the military. We now also use the term in conjunction with other kinds of trauma, including sexual assault. Sometimes the two go together–as many as 23% of women report sexual assault while they’re in the military. This doesn’t include the women who don’t report it out of fear of retaliation, which could increase the number dramatically. Those are some scary figures.

How PTSD Affects Addiction

When soldiers come home from war, they are often prescribed anti-anxiety medications to deal with their PTSD symptoms. They may have also prescribed pain medication for their injuries. Abuse of these medications all too often results in a substance abuse problem. More than 20% of veterans with PTSD suffer from addiction. 

Even though the numbers are still high, the good news is that those rates are coming down as doctors become more conscientious about the dangers of opiate prescriptions and the military becomes more educated about PTSD. Only about 4% of active military members report a problem with substance abuse in the latest surveys, but the dangers do increase as do the numbers when they discharge. There’s still plenty of work that has to be done.

This mental disorder also creates an extra barrier to addiction treatment and recovery because detoxification symptoms only amplify their already traumatized emotions and make withdrawal that much harder. They are also more prone to relapse after detoxification related to their complications from their mental disorder. If addiction and PTSD are treated at the same time, there is a much greater chance of success.

What Can Be Done to Support Veterans With PTSD and Addiction?

The US Department of Veterans Affairs also makes recommendations for specific types of therapy. They recommend treatment of PTSD using cognitive processing therapy (CPT), prolonged exposure (PE), and eye movement and desensitization processing (EMDP). But just treating your PTSD isn’t enough and you need therapeutic techniques to treat your substance abuse as well.

For those with a substance abuse disorder (SUD), the VA recommends cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a form of therapy that is common in inpatient detoxification and rehabilitation centers. It’s effective even when used with substance abuse not related to military service. 

Other forms of rehabilitation that are recommended include relapse prevention and contingency management. They also have a treatment program where you treat both disorders consecutively called COPE.

Unfortunately, when most veterans try to seek help from the VA, waiting for treatment can take a long time–time they may not have. They often have to seek help from other treatment centers that specialize in addiction and PTSD. Fortunately, there are several they can choose from to get help.

You should also know that if you are a military service veteran, and especially if you’ve seen combat, no matter how low your self-esteem has dropped or what mental disorders you may have as a result of your service, we appreciate and support your service to this country. PTSD and the subsequent addiction are not your fault. It’s our obligation to give you the help and support you need.

After many military veterans come home with PTSD after serving in combat or war zones. They can also become addicted to prescription medications used to treat anxiety or pain from injuries. To deal with the physical and emotional trauma, some veterans abuse their prescriptions or consume large amounts of alcohol to dull the pain. As a result, PTSD presents unique addiction challenges when the two coexist. This is often complicated by a system set up to serve our veterans that can be difficult to navigate and slow to provide treatment. Addiction is a medical emergency and every day that goes by without treatment is another day that we risk serious medical issues for veterans or even suicide. If you have sought help from the VA but can’t wait any longer, find an alternative treatment center that can help you with addiction and PTSD at the same time for a greater success rate. At Everlast Recovery Centers, we treat your mental health as well as your addictions. Let us help you by calling 866-DETOX-25