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PTSD and Addiction: Substance Abuse in the Military

PTSD and Addiction in our Armed Forces

PTSD and AddictionIn honor of Memorial Day 2015, I wanted to call attention to the high comorbidity between PTSD and addiction in our Armed Forces population. Although illicit drug use is lower among U.S. military personnel than among civilians, heavy alcohol and prescription drug abuse is prevalent and on the rise. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, military personnel with multiple deployments and combat exposure have the highest risk of developing substance abuse problems. The high comorbidity between addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has much to do with the widespread untreated trauma issues found in our Armed Forces population.

According to a 2008 Department of Defense study, prescription drug abuse among service members is higher than that of our non-Armed Forces population. In 2008, 11% of service members reported abusing prescription drugs; this number increased from 2005 when it was 4%. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, more than 2 of 10 Veterans struggling with PTSD also suffer from a substance abuse addiction, and almost 1 out of 3 Veterans seeking treatment for addiction also struggle with PTSD. In regard to the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 1 in 10 returning soldiers seen in VA suffer from a substance abuse problem. War veterans with PTSD tend to be binge drinkers and use nicotine twice as much as veterans without PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is significantly more common among veterans than the general population.  PTSD can cause intrusive memories, intense anxiety, and nightmarish flashbacks that interfere with daily life and can lead to feelings of depression and hopelessness. Many individuals struggling with these symptoms turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to numb the pain or to avoid the intrusive memories. When substances are used to manage PTSD symptoms, the symptoms of both disorders only become more severe. Although substance use begins as the solution to PTSD, it eventually becomes just another problem threatening the lives of our veterans.

“In regards to the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 1 in 10 returning soldiers suffer from a substance abuse disorder”

It is essential that we are aware of and understand the intricate relationship between PTSD and addiction. Research shows that people have improved PTSD and addiction symptoms when they receive treatment that addresses both conditions. We undeniably owe deep gratitude to the members of our Armed Forces, and it is only right that our government provides these heroes with proper treatment that addresses both the trauma and the substance abuse. If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD and addiction, know that help is available and recovery is indeed possible.

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