Addiction & the Military: How PTSD Leads to Addiction

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Memorial Day weekend is a time that we as Americans can reflect on the sacrifices our men and women in uniform have made in order for us to continue to experience freedom. Those individuals who have served or actively serve in our military deserve nothing but the utmost in respect for giving their time, energy and lifetime to us as a society. However, there is a growing percentage of returning veterans that are coming back from active duty with significant physical injury as well as mental distress. One of the most common afflictions that returning soldiers can face is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is one of the most emotionally debilitating disorders that one can face, especially for our soldiers. PTSD can cause intense anxiety, intrusive memories and vivid flashbacks that can interfere with daily functioning. In the absence of proper therapy, counseling and other support, a good number of our veterans turn to alcohol and drugs in order to numb the pain or to find some sort of control in their lives. With the presence of substance abuse, this can create a complicated dual diagnosis and become essential to understand the roots of the causes of PTSD along with treatment for alcohol and/or drug addiction.

Statistics: Substance Abuse and PTSD

The statistics concerning substance use and abuse and the prevalence of PTSD among military personnel has become increasingly concerning. For example, it is estimated that up to 75% of combat veterans that have lifetime PTSD also met the criteria for lifetime alcohol and/or drug dependence. Male soldiers are twice as likely to develop substance abuse issues when PTSD is present in comparison to female soldiers. One area of concern is the growing tide of prescription drug abuse. In the period between 2002-2005 prescription drug abuse among the military doubled and in the years 2005-2008 the rate tripled.

Alcohol abuse is the most prevalent problem and one which poses a significant health risk. A study of Army soldiers screened 3 to 4 months after returning from deployment to Iraq showed that 27 percent met criteria for alcohol abuse and were at increased risk for related harmful behaviors. Additionally, there is the specter of mental illness. In another study of returning soldiers, clinicians identified 20 percent of active and 42 percent of reserve component soldiers as requiring mental health treatment. Drug or alcohol use frequently accompanies mental health problems and was involved in 30 percent of the Army’s suicide deaths from 2003 to 2009 and in more than 45 percent of non-fatal suicide attempts from 2005 to 2009.

Why Turn To Drugs and Alcohol?

There are several key reasons regarding why those in the military who suffer from PTSD turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their disorder. A common reason those in the military turn to drugs—and especially alcohol—is the fact that it is viewed as the best “over the counter” medication available. In the case of alcohol, it is legal and inexpensive and the results of drinking can be seen as predictable in the fact that it can numb and slow things to the point where life is seemingly more manageable.

Secondly, the military’s “zero tolerance” policy can also contribute to the problem of substance abuse among military personnel. While this type of policy does lower the instance of illicit drug use while soldiers on are active duty it does not provide any sort of outlet for help in case someone were to develop a substance dependence issue. Additionally, military medicine follows the concept of “partitioning” where the addiction counselor, the psychiatrist, the neurologist and the doctor work separately rather than in conjunction with one another.

While the wounds and trauma may be healed on those individual levels, substance abuse is a complex issue which has a presence of many levels. In order to effectively treat the substance abuse, the mental and physical pain and trauma must all be acknowledged and accounted for in addition to the substance abuse. The best thing we could do for the thousands of Americans in uniform now, who often return troubled by their experiences, is to apply some common sense to their healing. If you or someone you know is suffering from a drug & alcohol problem call The Palm Beach Institute today at 1-855-470-2050.

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