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PTSD and Addiction Among Vets: What’s the Connection?

man in army fatigues at psychologist - PTSD and veterans - addictionPost Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition that often occurs after experiencing or witnessing an acutely traumatic event. Just under 4% of the American population suffers a mild to crippling form of PTSD.

Degrees of trauma can be subjective.

Doctors normally see PTSD in their patients about three months after they have experienced or seen the following:

  • Natural disasters
  • Rape, sexual abuse, harassment, or assault
  • Serious accidents
  • Terrorist events
  • Murder/death threats
  • War or combat

Today, we’re going to focus on the people who often experience, see, and must participate in war and combat: veterans.

PTSD & Veterans: What’s the Connection?

More than 10% of veterans today struggle with PTSD. It’s a bumpy ride for most. Symptoms and side effects include anything from intrusive memories to total changes in personality and behavior.

Side effects can fall into any one of the following four categories:

  1. Intrusion
    • Constant involuntary memories
    • Nightmares or night terrors
    • Vivid, often surreal flashbacks which sometimes can’t be distinguished from reality
  2. Avoidance
    • Avoidance of people, locations, activities, objects, and situations that may trigger distressing memories or flashbacks
  3. Cognitive/Mood Changes
    • Inability to remember certain aspects of the traumatic event
    • Feelings of paranoia or low self-esteem
    • Feelings of guilt, shame, horror, detachment, emptiness, or fury
  4. Changes in arousal/reactivity
    • Irritability/angry outbursts
    • Reckless or self-destructive behavior
    • Paranoia or skittishness
    • Lack of concentration or aloofness
    • Insomnia

When a veteran experiences symptoms from one or more of these categories for longer than a month, they are usually diagnosed with PTSD. By no means is the diagnosis an expression of weakness or a sign that the person “isn’t cut out for the military.” It simply means that our brains have specific, observable reactions to traumatic events.

It should be noted, too, that not all veteran PTSD stems from combat. It’s very common to experience and witness sexual assault or harassment in the military. This is another leading cause of PTSD in both civilians and soldiers.

The Connection Between Substance Abuse & Veterans With PTSD

It might be easy to see how all of these feelings, changes, or behaviors could contribute to an overwhelming stress that pushes a veteran to use or abuse substances.

A little under half of individuals with PTSD also have a substance abuse disorder (SUD). Most of the time, the PTSD comes before the addiction and can often fuel it in the case of veterans.

Those who have PTSD and an SUD often justify the substance abuse with a common term: self-medicating. This is when a person uses recreational drugs, prescription medication, or alcohol to ease or lessen the side effects of PTSD. They may make the excuse that the trauma justifies the addiction.

Self-medicating may seem to help at first, but it ultimately causes more damage, worsening the emotional and mental condition and causing physical harm.

Veterans Are Welcome at Great Oaks Recovery Center

Great Oaks has partnered with PsychArmor, a national nonprofit organization, to offer the Tactical Recovery Program for veterans. We provide for veterans a culturally competent and trauma-informed environment, and we cater our evidence-based therapies toward each individual’s needs.

Watching a loved one, especially one who has courageously served their country, succumb to the power of addiction can be demoralizing, heartbreaking, and incredibly difficult to navigate. Relationships with children, spouses, other family members may turn into collateral damage when a veteran develops an addiction. This doesn’t have to be a permanent outcome. Great Oaks also offers a family program to educate families about addiction and help them improve their communication with and support of each other. Reach out today!

Looking for addiction treatment for Veterans near Bay City, Texas? Contact us anytime at (877) 977-3268. We are here to help.

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