In the United States, the veteran population is one of the highest-risk groups for both addiction and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many veterans struggle with these co-occurring mental health issues and are hesitant to seek help. They have experienced the horrific violence of combat while serving in the military, and these intense experiences can lead to the development of PTSD and/or depression. Veterans may turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to self-medicate the feelings of stress, anxiety, or fear that come with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Some veterans who have lived through traumatic events slowly overcome the depression, anxiety, and agitation caused by their experiences. But when Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder develops, symptoms may last for months or years after the event. In addition to military combat, experiencing or witnessing acts of terrorism, natural disasters, physical or sexual assault as a child or an adult, serious injury or accidents, or the unexpected death of a loved one can lead to PTSD.
PTSD changes the brain’s chemistry, much like what happens with a substance use disorder. After experiencing a traumatic event, the brain produces fewer of the endorphins that cause feelings of happiness. Sometimes, individuals, such as veterans, who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder take endorphin-enhancing drugs or alcohol to make themselves feel better. Often the person begins to rely on alcohol or drugs to relieve their feelings of anxiety, stress, irritability, and depression, leading to addiction.
Generally, the symptoms of PTSD begin soon after the trauma takes place. However, sometimes they do not emerge until months or years after the traumatic event. They may come and go erratically over many years.
PTSD has four types of symptoms. It is important to keep in mind that everyone is different, and symptoms may differ from one person to another. According to an article from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, these symptoms include:
1. Reliving the Event: The person experiences memories of the traumatic event that feel very scary and real and can pop up at any time. Several examples include:
- Flashbacks – the person feels as if they are reliving or going through the traumatic event again.
- Nightmares about the event.
- The person may experience a trigger causing them to relive the traumatic event. Hearing, seeing, or smelling something that reminds them of the trauma often acts as a trigger. Viewing an accident, hearing fireworks, or seeing a news report are examples of triggers.
2. Avoidance: The individual tries to avoid things, people, or situations that remind them of the traumatic event.
Often they avoid thinking or talking about it. Examples of avoidance include:
- Avoiding driving or being in a vehicle if their military convoy experienced a bombing or they were in a vehicular accident.
- Avoiding crowds because they think they are dangerous.
- If the individual was in combat, they may avoid movies involving war or combat.
Often the person tries to stay very busy, so they do not have to think or talk about the trauma. Keeping busy also keeps them from getting help.
3. Experiencing more negative feelings and thoughts than before the traumatic event. After the trauma, many people think about themselves and others in a more negative way. Examples of this include:
- The individual may feel they cannot trust anyone and feel the world is a very dangerous place.
- The person may feel shame or guilt regarding the event. They may feel they should have done more or wish they could have stopped it from occurring.
- They may not be able to feel loving or positive towards others. They feel numb.
- The person has no interest in doing anything they once enjoyed.
4. Hyperarousal: The person constantly feels on edge or jittery. Their mood can change quickly to irritability and anger. They may always be watching out for danger. Examples include:
- The person may find it difficult to concentrate.
- They may have problems sleeping.
- Loud noises may easily startle the individual.
- They might abuse alcohol or drugs, drive while under the influence, drive recklessly, or act in other unhealthy, dangerous ways.
Help Is Available
If you are a veteran struggling with a substance use disorder or co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD and addiction, help is available. You are not alone. At English Mountain Recovery, located in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, you will receive the care you need. We understand the needs of veterans, and using our Tactical Recovery Program, we will provide you with a culturally competent and trauma-informed environment that delivers the level of treatment you deserve. Our professional staff understands the impact your military service has had on your life. It is time to begin your journey to living a sober and fulfilling life while learning to effectively manage your PTSD symptoms, reducing their frequency and intensity. Call us today.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.