• October 1, 2019
  • Posted in Addiction
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After sacrificing so much for our great country, many veterans find it difficult to readjust to civilian life once they complete their tours. They turn to drugs such as alcohol and marijuana to cope with their traumatizing experiences while in combat.
Service men and women are likely to develop substance use disorder if they do not get the help they need. The silver lining is that they can recover and cope with their combat experiences and life issues. Veterans can lead a happy and healthy life without abusing drugs.

Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can occur after veterans experience traumatic events. The vet feels that they have no control over the situation and that their life is in danger. About 25% of veterans suffer from PTSD. It is not an unlikely occurrence among people that have seen or experienced combat. PTSD may also be as a result of sexual abuse. About 23% of women claim that they experienced sexual assault while in battle.

Factors that Increase the Likelihood of Traumatic Experiences Include:

  • The intensity of traumatic occurrence
  • Lack of support after the exposure
  • Being physically close to the event
  • Losing a loved one or being hurt
  • Feeling you do not have control
These factors can increase your likelihood of developing PTSD. The more exposure you have to them, the higher your chances of getting the emotional disorder.

PTSD and Addiction

PTSD often goes hand in hand with addiction. Many veterans suffering from PTSD start abusing drugs and alcohol. They begin using and abusing drugs and alcohol in order to cope with their traumatic experiences. Binge drinking and abusing opioids and other drugs are common occurrences among veterans with PTSD.
Rather than offering a lasting solution this only provides a temporary fix. Once the drugs wear off, the symptoms PTSD return, often worse than before. More drugs are needed to try to decrease or eliminate their symptoms such as flash backs, insomnia, night terrors, hallucinations and feeling out of control.

PTSD and SUD Co-occur in Many Veterans. These Stats Prove This Fact to Be True:

  1. More than 2% of veterans that suffer from PTSD also have substance use disorder
  2. About 30% of all veterans that seek treatment for SUD have PTSD
  3. Close to 10% of veterans returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have SUD
  4. More than half of veterans with PTSD engage in binge drinking
  5. Veterans with PTSD are twice as likely to smoke nicotine that those without the anxiety disorder
Addiction is a common characteristic among veterans with PTSD. They turn to SUD for many reasons, such as coping with the condition.

The Link Between Addiction and PTSD in Veterans

Many veterans are susceptible to addiction, especially those with PTSD. Veterans and military personnel are more likely to have SUD than regular civilians.

Man wearing combat hat and army uniform near US flag looks up in attention

Research done by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) shows that 27% of veterans that have PTSD are abusing drugs. Many people agree that PTSD and SUD co-occur due to the self-medication hypothesis. This theory outlines that veterans use the tranquilizing, sedating, and mind-altering effects of drugs to numb the symptoms of PTSD or forget traumatic events.
The pressure that veterans experience to reintegrate quickly after service often leads to conditions such as PTSD. Veterans may turn to substance abuse to hide their struggles and avoid disappointing their loved ones.

Symptoms of PTSD in Veterans

The U.S department of Veteran Affairs states that PTSD can develop after traumatic events such as combat and terror attacks. PTSD symptoms appear immediately, but it may take weeks or years before these symptoms surface.

The Signs Are in Four Clusters:

  1. Avoiding situations that may remind you of the traumatic event you went through during the war. You start avoiding your fellow veterans, places, or thoughts that can trigger memories of the traumatic experiences.
  2. Hyperarousal. You are always jumpy, on guard, and you are reactive emotionally. Furthermore, you are anxious, startled easily, and you cannot sleep.
  3. You may experience recurrent and distressing nightmares, thoughts, and flashbacks of the traumatic event. Extreme reactions such as heart palpitations and panic attacks remind you of the trauma. You may have adverse changes in your feelings and beliefs.
  4. You may experience exaggerated negative thoughts about the world or yourself or be subject to a persistent sense of shame, guilt, or fear. It becomes rare for you to have positive emotions anymore.

These symptoms affect the daily lives of veterans. They influence their relationships, work, and social life. They must seek help to avoid experiencing the consequences of untreated PTSD.

Which Substances Do Veterans Commonly Abuse?

There are many substances that veterans with PTSD abuse. Some start as legitimate prescriptions by medical professionals and turn into an addiction. Others begin as mild use of drugs to numb the signs of PTSD or forget the traumatic experiences.
These uses turn into a habit that can have severe repercussions to not only the veterans but also the people close to them.

Veterans Can Be Addicted to These Prescription Medications:

  1. Sedatives (Lunesta and Ambien)
  2. Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, and Ativan)
  3. Painkillers (OxyContin, Vicodin, and Lortab)
Once they become addicted to these medications, the veteran may develop a tolerance to the drugs and need to use more. Some medical professionals prescribe non-addictive antidepressants such as Zoloft and Paxil to curb the risk of addiction.

Veterans are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using drugs such as sedatives, benzodiazepines and opiate pain medications. Continued use may lead to full-blown addiction, which is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior. Stakeholders are pushing for strict regulations to curb drug addiction by veterans that originate from prescribed medications.

Other Substances That Veterans Abuse Include:
  1. Marijuana
  2. Cocaine
  3. Amphetamines
  4. Alcohol
  5. Heroin

Problems Associated with Addiction and PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD can have far-reaching consequences. Even though the memories may not be active generally, they carry a powerful emotional charge. Addictions and PTSD together can be fatal if not treated properly, simultaneously and.in a timely manner.

The specific problems that veterans can face due to PTSD and addiction include:

Chronic Pain and Permanent Injury

Veterans can have permanent injuries such as loss of limbs and countless medical and psychiatric ailments while in war zones. Once they return from a tour of duty, they may begin to use and abuse drugs to deal with the pain and try to forget the traumatic experiences.
Pain medications are often needed to treat severe pain and physical problems acquired in battle. Sedatives and benzodiazepines may also be indicated to address the outward signs of trauma, insomnia and anxiety from their experiences on the battlefield.

Legal and Criminal Challenges

Veterans are likely to be incarcerated once they develop addiction. Abusing illicit drugs can lead to arrests and incarceration. Additionally, you can go to jail because of what you do to satisfy your cravings. You may develop a dependence on substances, which can make you to commit crimes to satisfy your urges.

Domestic Problems

Everyone expects their loved ones to reintegrate well after tours. However, the pressure to fit in can lead veterans to abuse drugs. They engage in SUD to hide their struggles. This action can lead to disappointment when their loved ones find out that they have turned to drugs.
PTSD can also make veterans irritable and emotionally distant, which affects their interactions with their families.

Homelessness

Veterans may struggle to reintegrate once they leave the armed forces. They may run away from their homes because they cannot connect with their loved ones. Additionally, they can develop addictions that can have serious repercussions.
Their loved ones can become frustrated with their behaviors or drug abuse. Veterans can leave their homes once they sense the disappointment that their SUD causes to the people they care for strongly.

Recovering From PTSD and Addiction

Veterans want to reintegrate after their deployment. However, addiction and PTSD are challenges that may derail them from attaining this goal. In case you experience the two, these steps should help you recover and get back to your life after your tours.

Veterans with PTSD treatment and self help

Step 1: Get Moving

Exercises such as running, basketball, and swimming are good for veterans suffering from PTSD. Exercising for 30 minutes or more daily can be beneficial to you. Workouts burn adrenaline and release endorphins, which improve your mood.
They may also help you improve your reactions and keep you fit. Physical activities also distract you from dangerous thoughts, such as remembering traumatic experiences from the tours. You may check out groups such as Sierra Club Military Outdoors for fun activities that you may engage in with your family.

Step 2: Have More Control Over Your Nervous System

You may still recall the traumatic experiences that you could not control from the battlefield. However, you can keep your emotions in check after your tour. PTSD can make you feel vulnerable and helpless, but you are in control of your feelings.
Whenever you are anxious or agitated, try taking 60 breaths. Counting them will help you keep calm. Distract yourself from triggers of PTSD by focusing on things that matter to you. Try to reconnect emotionally with your loved ones.
This action helps you take back control of your life and balance moods.

Step 3: Connect With Others

As a veteran, you would like to find someone who you can share your experiences with them without any judgments. You can find someone who will be your emotional partner from your family, service friends, or your civilian friends.
These people care about you, and they will help you without any hesitation.
You do not have to always talk with the person. At times, you can hang out and enjoy each other’s company. Alternatively, you may volunteer or join a PTSD support group. These activities can help you connect with others. They may also assist you in regaining control over your emotions.

Step 4: Take Care of Your Body

PTSD and addiction can have severe consequences on your body. People engage in stimulating activities like drug use and dangerous activities after their experiences in battle. You must recognize these urges and try curbing them.
Once you can control your desires, you will start making better choices that protect and calm your body.
You should find safer ways to satisfy your needs, eat a balanced diet, and get enough sleep. Additionally, you should avoid drugs. Relaxation exercises like yoga can help you feel better.

Step 5: Deal With Flashbacks, Nightmares, and Intrusive Thoughts

You may occasionally experience these situations after your tours. If they happen, state to yourself loudly that you are safe. A simple look at your environment should help you with this assertion. Describe your surroundings.
This description should help you dissociate from the experiences on the battlefield.
Have a simple script that you will use when you experience them to distance yourself from them. Pinch yourself or tap your arms to come back to reality. Try vigorous movement, rapid blinking, or playing loud music to ground yourself during a flashback.

Step 6: Work Through Survivors Guilt

Whenever you are not at peace with the experiences from the tours, you will replay what took place imagining if you could have done anything any differently. Deaths and injuries can traumatize you long after your deployment.
You may blame yourself for what happened.
You may also have survivor’s guilt, a doubt that comes when you watch other people die and think why you did not die with them. You do not need to forget what happened or have no regrets. You only need to assess your role and responsibility. Channel any guilt you have towards honoring the dead.

Step 7: Seek Professional Treatment

You need to seek help to deal with your PTSD and addiction. You must seek assistance early to avoid facing their consequences. Professional help can help you confront and accept what happened. Doctors and therapists can help you in the following ways.
  • Attend counseling sessions or Cognitive-Behavioral therapy (CBT). In this method, you share your feelings, and the professional help you confront them.
  • Medication like antidepressants. These drugs help you lower your sadness, worry, or irritability. However, they do not cure the causes of PTSD.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). This treatment borrows from CBT and eye movements. They help your nervous system return to normalcy.
At Ebb Tide Treatment centers we provide treatment for PTSD and Addiction focused on military veterans active with TRICARE. We are a fully licensed medical facility that will offer personalized treatment for you or your loved one and walk with you throughout the recovery journey.
We offer inpatient and outpatient as well as Day/Night treatment programs with housing (Partial hospitalization) option available.

Bottom Line

Substance abuse and PTSD are two conditions that affect many veterans. Traumatic experiences from the battlefield are challenging to live with after your service. Being close to the war and witnessing its effects, firsthand can cause PTSD. Additionally, lack of support after your tours and feeling that you are not in control can increase your likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder.

Many veterans start using drugs to cope with the symptoms of PTSD. Some use prescription medication and develop an addiction while others begin consuming smaller amounts of substances and develop SUD. Addiction and PTSD can lead to legal problems and difficult communication with loved ones.

US soldier sitting on a tanker reading about PTSD in military veterans

Veterans with PTSD and addiction have four categories of symptoms that can indicate their struggles. These signs are:
  1. Hyperarousal and excessive avoidance of situations that may bring back the memories of their experiences on the battlefield.
  2. Negative changes in their beliefs and emotions.
  3. Recurrent traumatic flashbacks and thoughts can also be symptoms of their condition.
  4. Veterans may abuse drugs such as sedatives, alcohol, and painkillers.

The silver lining is that veterans suffering from these conditions can get better. With the right care, they can feel less effected with memories of war and begin to reintegrate into society.

Exercising, connecting with others, and controlling your nervous system can help you deal with PTSD. Taking care of your body, finding ways to cope with survivors’ guilt, and seeking professional help can help you deal with both addiction and PTSD. Seeking professional advice is an excellent way to get assistance. 

Despite suffering from PTSD and addiction, you can lead a long, healthy life after your deployment.  There are many ways you can strive towards this life. PTSD and SUD can affect your life after service. At Ebb Tide Treatment Centers we are here to help you fully recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and addiction. Contact us today to find out more about our programs.