Veteran substance abuse

Veteran Substance Abuse: The Link Between PTSD and Substance Use Disorders

Did you know that over 50% of military veterans don’t seek help for mental health disorders? Veterans experience high rates of mental illness, especially depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Unfortunately, many of these mental illnesses lead to substance use disorders, including alcohol and drug use. Veteran substance abuse is a chronic condition that affects relationships and physical and mental health.

If you or a loved one has dealt with PTSD and substance abuse, it is crucial that they seek professional help. Experts can provide education, advice, and counseling for individuals and their families. Many of these programs combine medication-assisted treatments to curb withdrawals and cravings.

Are you interested in learning more? We have put together a complete guide on what PTSD and substance use disorders are and how they relate to military service members. Keep reading for more information!

What Is PTSD?

PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder, and it is classified as a mental health disorder. PTSD develops when someone experiences isolated or recurrent shocking, life-threatening, abusive, or traumatic events.

Many people have experienced a traumatic event, but PTSD extends beyond fleeting feelings of shock, fear, or anxiety. Recurrent symptoms, even when a person is not in danger, are one of the characterizations of PTSD. Symptoms may start years after the initial exposure, although three months afterward is the average period.

PTSD diagnosis is given if symptoms persist beyond a month and it interferes with relationships or work obligations.

PTSD Symptoms

The majority of PTSD symptoms are broken down into four categories:

  1. Intrusive
  2. Avoidance
  3. Arousal
  4. Thought patterns

Repeated flashbacks or nightmares primarily classify intrusive symptoms. These intrusive memories result in severe distress, such as increased heart rate, respiratory rate, or sweating.

Avoidance symptoms are exactly as the name sounds – a person will deflect conversations about the event and may even avoid places or activities that serve as reminders. Increased arousal can occur throughout the day or intermittently, and it is primarily characterized by:

  • Becoming easily startled
  • Increased fear
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Reckless behavior
  • Overly cautious of surroundings

Lastly, changes in thoughts and feelings are related to lapses in memory. The person may struggle to remember the traumatic event, or they could start experiencing detachment from people and hobbies they once enjoyed. As you can imagine, it isn’t uncommon for these patients to also develop depression or substance use disorders.

What Are Substance Use Disorders?

Substance use disorders develop when a person continuously uses drugs or alcohol to the point it begins negatively affecting physical, mental, and/or emotional health. While substance use disorder is an umbrella term, you can break it into two common mental health disorders: alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder.

Alcohol and drugs affect the brain and neuropathways, leading to changes in your reward center. For example, opioids attach to specific brain receptors, which involve:

  • Mood
  • Pain perception
  • Reward

Opioids trigger dopamine release in your brain, leading to feelings of euphoria and relaxation. As the brain relies on opioids to trigger dopamine releases, it becomes dependent. Once this pathway is cut-off, the brain stops naturally producing dopamine.

Many side effects and withdrawal symptoms occur during this process, making detox centers and rehab critical. While opioid withdrawals are more of a nuisance than life-threatening, they pose a high risk for relapse. You start craving the drug as your body depends on it for chemical releases.

On the other hand, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that blunts activity. When you suddenly stop consuming alcohol, your central nervous system becomes overexcited, leading to:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Delirium
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Tachycardia

Without medical treatment, these symptoms progress to delirium tremens after 48 to 72 hours, which can result in cardiac arrest. Typically, detox centers will monitor vitals and administer medication as needed.

Veteran Substance Abuse

Now that you know a little more about the risks of substance use disorders and PTSD, it is critical that military veterans get the support they need to combat both. Approximately 47.6 million adults have a mental health disorder in America, while 19.3% of that population also have a substance use disorder.

PTSD can lead to self-medication through alcohol or drugs because of their effect on the nervous system. As a depressant, alcohol can provide a numbing effect that many people with PTSD use to help manage triggers.

Unfortunately, this leads to addiction and withdrawals, placing a person at risk for long-term health complications. What is the solution for these military veterans?

Veteran alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs focus on the unique challenges and traumatic events military members experience. It provides an opportunity for veterans to participate in individual and group therapy. Talking with other veterans brings added peer support during the path to sobriety.

Does Rehab Work?

Rehab includes therapy, counseling, and medication-assisted treatment. Treatments are customized to each individual and their unique needs.

Experts find that rehab does work, and nearly 75% of patients recover from substance use disorders. The hardest step is getting started and finding qualified help near you.

Finding Help for Military Veterans

Veteran substance abuse commonly occurs with PTSD symptoms. Traumatic events from military service can trigger PTSD years down the road.

Finding help for you or a loved one may seem challenging, but Cenikor is here to help. Veteran rehabilitation programs entail qualified and licensed professionals with vast experience working with co-occurring disorders.

Are you ready to start on the road to sobriety? Contact us today and get the help you or a loved one needs!

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