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How Does Alcohol Abuse Worsen a Veteran’s PTSD?

This Veterans Day, our team at Mount Sinai Wellness Center wishes to address a struggle that millions of our servicemen and women live with every day: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD afflicts those who have difficulty recovering after experiencing trauma such as sexual assault, natural disasters, or death on the battlefield. Countless American vets have had to see and endure horrific events, and as a result, they suffer from symptoms like panic attacks, anxiety, depression, and intrusive thoughts. The National Center for PTSD reported that up to a third of people coping with PTSD also have alcohol abuse issues.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the percentage of veterans impacted by PTSD varies depending on the war they took part in:

  • About 15 percent of veterans suffer/suffered from PTSD after the Vietnam War, though studies estimate that the number is much higher, at around 30 percent
  • About 12 percent of veterans had PTSD after the Gulf War
  • Between 11 and 20 percent of veterans who participated in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom are estimated to have PTSD

Millions of Americans know the feeling of craving a drink to cope with a long workday or stress. It only makes sense, then, why veterans would turn to alcohol to cope with their PTSD. Self-medication, however, can lead to addiction, and studies have shown that alcohol abuse can actually worsen a veteran’s PTSD.

Alcohol is Only a Temporary Fix

Veterans who drink in order to keep their anxiety and bad memories away will only experience temporary relief. Alcohol initially can improve a person’s mood, as the brain will release a chemical known as dopamine when high levels of alcohol are consumed. These feelings of relaxation and/or euphoria, however, eventually fade away, and the veteran’s symptoms will always return.

Other ongoing symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Nightmares
  • Self-injury
  • Paranoid
  • Insomnia
  • Emotional outbursts or aggression

Unfortunately, alcohol often worsens symptoms over time. Many people report that their anxiety or panic attacks became more intense after drinking. This quickly leads to alcohol addiction when veterans drink more and more to cope with their symptoms and prevent withdrawal. A veteran who has both PTSD and alcohol addiction is known to have a co-occurring disorder, or dual diagnosis. The interactions of both conditions can exacerbate one another and make the person feel worse.

Additionally, alcoholism can lead a veteran to experience other traumatic events that can add to their PTSD. Because alcoholism lowers a person’s inhibitions, an intoxicated individual is more likely to take risks and participate in dangerous activities that can harm themselves and others.

Offering Compassionate Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Mount Sinai Wellness Center is pleased to offer patients dual diagnosis treatment programs to address their behavioral health problems. Our team knows how important it is to have a comprehensive program to treat both addiction and mental health disorders, as the two often are intertwined. According to research, nearly half of all people who have a mental disorder will also have a substance use disorder during their lifetime.

Our facility offers various therapies to help patients acquaint themselves with their emotions and learn how to adapt so they don’t turn to destructive behaviors. We have a trauma treatment program that is designed specifically to treat PTSD, complex trauma, acute stress disorder, and more. At our center, we don’t just treat addiction – we strive to focus on our patients’ overall wellness.

Mount Sinai Wellness Center strives to meet our patients where they’re at, and we have several programs to help you address behavioral health issues like co-occurring disorders. Contact us online or by phone at (800) 353-4673 at any time.

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