Battle on the Homefront: Veterans, PTSD and Substance Abuse
Authored by Audra Franchini
Veterans with PTSD may turn to substances and need substance abuse rehab
Not often enough are we reminded of the incredible sacrifice and service of US veterans. And, often, that sacrifice is bigger than we realize. For as many as 20% of US veterans, returning from war marks the beginning of a lifelong battle with PTSD and substance abuse disorder. PTSD and substance abuse in veterans can trigger pain, anger, relationship stress, isolation and sleep deprivation. When traumatic stress is left untreated, coping mechanisms often include substance abuse which commonly leads to substance abuse rehab.
Studies have unravelled just why the rates of PTSD and substance abuse comorbidity are so high. When a person undergoes trauma, the body responds by increasing the level of endorphins in the brain, which help to manage and reduce perceptions of pain. This effectively allows the person to carry on through the trauma without collapsing under fear or anxiety. However, after the trauma has passed, endorphin levels drop off, causing some patients to experience a syndrome called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. After enduring a traumatic event along with endorphin withdrawal, many people turn to substances. This use of drugs and alcohol similarly boost endorphin levels to help numb the emotional and physical pain of the trauma.
In a vicious cycle, reminders of past trauma trigger the need for endorphin activity. PTSD and substance abuse studies report that many people turn to substances to relieve personal pain such as upsetting memories and symptoms of anxiety, irritability, and depression.
How common is PTSD and substance abuse in veterans?
Military veterans as a group reflect alarmingly high rates of suicide, PTSD, and substance abuse. Additionally, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, roughly 10% of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who are treated in VA hospitals have a problem with alcohol or drugs and are in need of substance abuse rehab. Similarly sobering, the VA reports that almost 1 out of every 3 veterans seeking treatment for substance use disorder also has PTSD. Veterans who suffer from these conditions often tend to be binge drinkers.
For veterans with PTSD, lasting recovery requires twofold substance abuse rehab treatment: first, treatment to enable abstinence from substance abuse; and second, therapeutic treatment to address the trauma from which the substance abuse stems. Given the nature of war trauma, significant psychotherapeutic treatment best assists veterans’ conditions. This treatment allows them to learn to articulate and tolerate their experiences.
At Recovery Centers of America, we achieve this by employing the following substance abuse rehab treatment:
- Psychological treatment for PTSD
- Evidence-based cognitive behavioral treatment for substance use disorder
- Family therapy for relational disruption caused by PTSD and substance abuse
- Medications that manage PTSD or substance use disorder symptoms
If you or someone you love is a veteran battling PTSD and substance abuse, please don’t hesitate to call 1-800-RECOVERY.