PTSD in Veterans & Substance Use Disorder

PTSD in veterans and SUD treatment by New Life Medical Addiction Services in Marlton New Jersey

PTSD in veterans is a growing problem that is sometimes accompanied by various forms of substance use disorder. Also, many veterans suffering from an addiction have co-occurring PTSD. PTSD can be caused by witnessing or participating in warfare or other violent or emotionally stressful situations.

Although most cases of PTSD are the result of combat, veterans may also develop the disorder after sexual abuse with about 23% of women veterans have reported being sexually assaulted during their time in the service.

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Substance Abuse
  • Feelings of Hopelessness
  • Aggression
  • Flashbacks
  • Problems Remembering
  • Low Self Esteem/Self Worth
  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Challenges In Relationship
  • Self-Destructive Behavior
  • Self-Harm

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms can be triggered by things that remind a veteran of the traumatic incident or incidents that they experienced. The daily

PTSD in veterans and SUD treatment from New Life Medical Addiction Services in Marlton New Jersey

reminders can be so persistent that many veterans turn to drug and alcohol abuse in an attempt to self-medicate and eliminate their pain. In fact, more than 20% of veterans with PTSD also suffer from addiction or dependence on drugs or alcohol.

Doctors often prescribe anti-anxiety medications to veterans with PTSD and many of these are highly addictive. To reduce the risk of addiction, some doctors prescribe non-addictive antidepressants such as Zoloft or Paxil, but even veterans without PTSD can become addicted to painkillers prescribed for combat-related injuries.

Common medications prescribed to veterans include:

  • Prescription Opioids (Lortab, Vicodin, OxyContin)
  • Benzodiazepines (Ativan, Valium, Xanax)
  • Sedatives (Ambien, Lunesta)

Veterans taking these drugs may develop a dependence on them, and as time goes by, this can grow into a full-blown addiction characterized by dangerous drug-seeking behavior.

Furthermore, People with PTSD can have a harder time overcoming addiction than those without it. This is because the symptoms of withdrawal combined with the symptoms of PTSD amplify negative feelings and emotions that may lead to a relapse.

Alcohol And Illicit Drugs In The Military

Since using illicit drugs in the military can result in a dishonorable discharge, drinking has become a part of military culture that can bleed over into civilian life when a veteran is discharged.

Unfortunately, veterans and service members self-medicating with alcohol often become addicted. This is exacerbated by the fact that approximately 20% of service members reported binge drinking at least once a week and this rate is even higher for those with combat exposure.

Veterans who have seen combat may have co-occurring disorders, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in addition to an addiction.

How Common Is Co-occurring PTSD and SUD in Veterans?

  • More than 20% of veterans with PTSD also have SUD.
  • Nearly 1 out of every 3 Veterans seeking treatment for SUD also has PTSD.
  • Combat veterans with PTSD and alcohol problems tend to binge drink.
  • For veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, about 1 in 10 returning Veterans seen by Veterans Administration doctors have a problem with drugs or alcohol.

How Co-occurring PTSD in Veterans and SUD Results in Challenges

Some veteran use drugs or alcohol to try to deal with PTSD symptoms. For example, people might use drugs to help them sleep, relax, or manage situations they would rather avoid. But, using drugs and/or alcohol can actually make PTSD symptoms worse.

For example:

  • PTSD may create sleep problems (trouble falling asleep or waking up during the night). People might “medicate” with alcohol or drugs because they think it helps with sleep, but drugs and alcohol change the quality of sleep and make people feel less refreshed.
  • PTSD makes people feel “numb,” like being cut off from others, angry and irritable, or depressed. PTSD also makes people feel like they are always on alert. These feelings can get worse when using drugs and alcohol.
  • Drug and alcohol use allows people to continue the cycle of “avoidance” found in PTSD. Avoiding bad memories and dreams or people and places can make PTSD last longer. People with PTSD slow down thei progress in treatment if they continue to avoid problems.
  • People may drink or use drugs because it distracts them from their problems for a short time. But drugs and alcohol make it harder to concentrate, be productive, and enjoy everything that life has to offer.


What Treatments Are Offered for Co-occurring PTSD and SUD?

Evidence shows that treating PTSD and substance use at the same time works to treat both conditions.

For treatment of PTSD, trauma-focused psychotherapies are the most effective. These treatments use different techniques to help people process their traumatic experience. Those with the strongest evidence include Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Prolonged Exposure (PE), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

The most effective treatments for SUD include medication assisted treatment, relapse prevention, cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy and peer coaching.

PTSD in veterans is problem that is affecting increasing numbers of those who have served our country. If you or someone in your life is a veteran in need of help, contact New Life Medical Addiction Services today.

Call us at: 856-942-3700 or send us a Text Message.

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