Understanding PTSD & Alcohol Abuse in Veterans

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Veterans bravely serve our country, but their sacrifices often come with heavy burdens, both physical and mental. One of the most prominent issues affecting our nation’s veterans is the co-occurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol abuse. In 2018 alone, 25,000 veterans aged 18-25 were diagnosed with an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) within that year. This alarming statistic underscores the severity and prevalence of the issue. This dual diagnosis presents unique challenges for the individual and their loved ones. At Tres Vistas Recovery, we are deeply committed to understanding and providing effective solutions for alcoholism in veterans and PTSD.

How Common is Co-Occurring PTSD & Alcohol Abuse in Veterans?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing traumatic events. Many veterans, having been exposed to the harsh realities of war and conflict, are vulnerable to this condition. Studies indicate that up to 30% of Vietnam War veterans have experienced PTSD at some point in their lives, and the numbers for more recent conflicts remain troublingly high.

When one grapples with the symptoms of PTSD – flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and heightened alertness – it’s not uncommon to turn to substances as a way to cope. Alcohol, being both legal and socially acceptable, becomes a go-to for many. Regrettably, it’s estimated that about 10-15% of veterans diagnosed with PTSD also struggle with alcohol abuse. The co-occurrence of these two conditions intensifies the challenges veterans face.

The intersection of these two conditions results in a complicated path of recovery for veterans with PTSD & substance abuse. The challenges they face due to this co-occurrence are multi-layered and require specialized care and understanding.

Effects of PTSD & Alcohol Abuse in Veterans

When PTSD and alcohol abuse co-exist, the effects can be debilitating. Alcohol might temporarily numb the pain or keep nightmares at bay, but its chronic use exacerbates PTSD symptoms. Here’s how:

  • Sleep disturbances: While alcohol might help one fall asleep initially, it disrupts the sleep cycle and can intensify nightmares.
  • Increased aggression: Both PTSD and alcohol abuse can make an individual more prone to aggressive behavior. When combined, this effect can be magnified.
  • Emotional numbness: Alcohol is a depressant, and its regular use can contribute to feelings of depression, isolation, and emotional detachment – all of which are already symptoms of PTSD.
  • Impaired judgment: Drinking can impair judgment, leading veterans to put themselves or others in dangerous situations and worsening their trauma.
  • Physical health risks: Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to liver disease, heart disease, and other health complications.

Treatment Options for Co-Occurring PTSD & Alcohol Abuse

Thankfully, recognizing the co-occurrence of PTSD and alcohol abuse has led to specialized treatments targeting both conditions simultaneously. Treatment options include:

  • Dual Diagnosis Treatment: This approach recognizes that substance abuse and mental health disorders are intertwined and must be treated together for the best outcomes.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Through CBT, individuals learn to recognize and change negative thought patterns and behaviors contributing to veteran’s substance abuse and PTSD symptoms.
  • Medication: Some medications can effectively treat PTSD and alcohol dependency.
  • Support Groups: Groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or specialized veteran support groups can provide a community of understanding and encouragement.

Additionally, Exposure Therapy is gaining traction as a beneficial approach. Research on co-occurring AUD and PTSD has revealed that integrating trauma-focused treatments, such as exposure therapy, into substance use treatment can be instrumental in alleviating PTSD symptoms and the distress triggered by traumatic cues.

Steps to Take if Self or Loved One has PTSD & Alcohol Abuse

If you or a loved one is grappling with PTSD and alcohol abuse, taking prompt action is crucial. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Acknowledge the Problem: Recognizing and accepting the issue is the first and often most challenging step.
  • Seek Professional Help: Approach mental health professionals or addiction specialists for guidance.
  • Avoid Triggers: Recognize and avoid situations or environments that exacerbate PTSD symptoms or encourage drinking.
  • Stay Connected: Lean on supportive friends, family, or support groups. Isolation can make the journey harder.

Outpatient Addiction Treatment for Veterans – Tres Vistas Recovery

Tres Vistas Recovery, located in San Juan Capistrano, is proud to offer specialized outpatient addiction treatment for veterans and substance abuse. With our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) and Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), we provide tailored approaches to address both PTSD and alcohol abuse effectively. Recognizing the unique challenges faced by veterans, our team of experienced professionals offers compassionate, evidence-based treatments designed to help individuals on their journey to recovery. For those seeking comprehensive veterans rehab, Tres Vistas Recovery stands as a beacon of hope and support.

While the intertwined issues of PTSD and alcohol abuse in veterans are deeply concerning, it’s reassuring to know that potent treatments and support structures exist. With the right care, understanding, and resources, reclaiming one’s life is not just a possibility—it’s a promise. If you or a loved one is in the throes of such challenges, remember: Tres Vistas Recovery is always here to assist.

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Tracey Kane is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and Assistant Clinical Director at Tres Vistas Recovery. With over 11 years of experience in the field of addiction treatment, Tracey has dedicated her career to helping individuals struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues.

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