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Veterans, Substance Abuse, and PTSD: Help is Available


People who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have a higher rate of substance abuse than those who do not. The traumas they have experienced may seem too overwhelming and heavy, so they turn to substances like alcohol, tobacco, and others to escape reality or to numb the pain. In America, veterans, especially those who have spent time in combat, compose a large percentage of the population who suffer from both PTSD and substance use disorder.

Are PTSD and Substance Use Disorder Common in Veterans?

The combination of PTSD and substance use disorder is common both in civilian and military veterans. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):

  • About 20% of veterans that have PTSD also have substance use disorder.
  • One-third of veterans who go to treatment for substance use disorder are also diagnosed with PTSD.
  • War veterans that have PTSD are more apt to be binge drinkers: 21% of veterans that are seeking addiction treatment are homeless and 70% of them also depend on alcohol to cope.

What Problems Do Veterans With PTSD and Substance Abuse Experience?

It’s likely that if a veteran is struggling with PTSD and substance abuse, he or she will experience symptoms and outcomes like:

  • Health issues such as chronic fatigue, physical pain
  • Mental health issues including depression and anxiety
  • Relationship strain with partner/spouse, friends, or family
  • Not being able to hold a job or stay in school

Many veterans resort to numbing with substances to find relief and escape from these symptoms and outcomes. For example, they might abuse substances like euphoric drugs, alcohol, or benzodiazepines to deal with depression or anxiety. Others may have difficulty sleeping due to nightmares or flashbacks of their trauma. Turning to alcohol can help slow down their thoughts so they can fall asleep. Unfortunately, this can turn into a habit of nightly and even daily excessive drinking. The reality is that when alcohol is consumed in large quantities, it does not allow the body to fully rest during sleep, which just perpetuates stress and depression caused by PTSD.

Alcohol is Not The Solution

Those that struggle with PTSD may feel like they don’t belong anywhere. They may feel depressed, angry, and even leery of others. Unexplored and unresolved, these emotions may cause them to drink in order to feel momentary relief, which will only cause more feelings of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. After all, alcoholism is a progressive disease that will only worsen symptoms, not make them better.

The traumatic memories and horrendous flashbacks from PTSD may make some veterans feel that self-medicating with alcohol is the only solution. They may feel all alone. Yet, they are not. There are people and organizations who care and who want to offer help.

Treatment for Veterans with PTSD and Substance Abuse

Individuals who have served in the military can seek help through the Veteran’s Administration (VA) or other entities capable of handling both substance abuse disorders and PTSD.

Understanding the plight of many veterans and learning about the treatment options that are available can be life changing. If you are a veteran struggling with PTSD or substance abuse, or you know someone who is, each VA Medical Center has specialists that are well-trained in treating both conditions.

Common PTSD Treatments Include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Treatment (CBT)
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
  • Couples therapy
  • Medication that may help with PTSD or substance abuse disorders

Not only can veterans find help at VA Medical Centers, but SAMHSA is an organization that offers treatment and support for PTSD and substance abuse for veterans and their families. They will assist veterans with emotional health, mental health, substance abuse disorders, as well as offer assistance with finding stable housing.

If you are a veteran or know one, reach out for help today and take an important step toward getting your life back. Allow professionals to assist you or your loved one get free from substance abuse, and learn how to manage PTSD symptoms, so you can experience more freedom, peace, and joy.


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