15 Sep PTSD AND ALCOHOL: HOW WAR CAUSES ALCOHOLISM
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) often occurs in conjunction with alcoholism. Together, these conditions are known as co-occurring disorders and a diagnosis of both is called a “dual diagnosis”.
Individuals with PTSD are more likely to develop drinking problems; conversely, individuals with drinking problems often have PTSD. Having PTSD increases the likelihood for developing a drinking problem and needing treatment for alcohol abuse, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
One reason for the close association between war, PTSD and alcoholism is that blast waves from explosions can cause traumatic brain injuries (TBI), rattling the brain inside the skull. Veterans with TBI are more likely to have both PTSD and alcoholism, according to NIH Medline Plus.
Alcoholism: Veterans and PTSD
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD affects nearly 31 percent of all Vietnam War veterans. NIH Medline Plus also lists that Sixty to 80 percent of Vietnam War veterans who seek treatment for PTSD also abuse alcohol. Approximately 10 percent of Gulf War veterans and 11 percent of veterans from the war in Afghanistan and Iraq report PTSD symptoms.
Alcoholism as an Effect of PTSD
Individuals with PTSD appear to be emotionally numb while also being easily irritated and aggressive.
These individuals lose interest in the things they once enjoyed, struggle to fall asleep at night, and are constantly on guard against events that may trigger any reminder of the traumatic incidents.
PTSD sufferers repeatedly relive their trauma through thoughts during the day and nightmares while sleeping. Flashbacks are more than just uncomfortable memories; they may include sounds, smells and strong feelings. Something as simple as a door slamming or a car backfiring can trigger these flashbacks.
Alcohol Abuse Worsens PTSD Symptoms, Makes Treatment More Difficult
Binge drinking is one way that veterans cope with traumatic memories of war and flashbacks, reports the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Memories of trauma may spark these binges; veterans abuse alcohol to numb their memory of these traumatic events and cope with the pain. Veterans with PTSD often struggle to fall asleep at night or worry about having bad dreams and nightmares; self-medicating with alcohol may seem like an easy way to pass out and finally sleep.
However, alcohol affects the quality of sleep, making it less refreshing and restful. Drinking continues the cycle of avoidance that worsens PTSD; avoiding bad memories and dreams actually prolongs PTSD.
Rather than serving as an escape from the pain, however, alcohol abuse can actually make PTSD symptoms worse. Drinking to excess may seem like an effective way to temporarily distract oneself from problems for a short time. However, excessive alcohol consumption actually makes it harder to concentrate, be productive, and effectively cope with the stress of traumatic memories.
Alcohol abuse worsens common PTSD symptoms including:
- Panic attacks, extreme worries or fears
- Compulsive behaviors
- Depression and anxiety
- Ongoing pain from war injuries
Treatment for Alcoholism and PTSD: Dual Diagnosis Care Makes a Difference
In order to effectively treat alcohol abuse associated with PTSD, it is critical that the treatment program address both of these issues.
PTSD issues should be included in alcohol treatment, and vice versa. Addressing only one problem is not a complete solution. While dual diagnosis care is increasingly common, many veterans still fail to receive complete treatment for both PTSD and alcoholism.
If a loved one is struggling with both of these conditions, dual diagnosis treatment can help him take the first steps back to sobriety.