The day-to-day realities of a soldier during wartime are tough to imagine for those that have never experienced it. While combat has become more mechanized in recent years, there are still countless men and women in the field all over the world, risking their lives for their country and for their own unique reasons, too numerous, diverse and intimate to list.

However, one thing that all of these soldiers sent into battle share is the daily pressure, anxiety and trepidation that come from living your life in the line of fire. Whether the danger is constantly imminent or perpetually ominous, there is little reprieve from the ever-present fear that today might be your last. Couple that with the loneliness of being away from friends and family and the visual horrors of war, and you start to understand why large swaths of soldiers returning from war zones are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Causes and Effects of PTSD

Recovery.org defines PTSD as “a mental health disorder caused by exposure to a disturbing or distressing event, such as having your life threatened, experiencing sexual violence or suffering a severe injury.” Unfortunately, soldiers routinely experience some or all of these traumatic events at least once (often multiple times) over the course of their time in the military.

The result of these traumas manifest in many different ways and historically due to a lack of scientific and medical understanding, have been difficult to diagnose. Fortunately, thanks to the medical community’s more modernized understanding of PTSD  as something more serious than the over-simplified and underdiagnosed “shell shock”, identification of PTSD has become mainstream medicine. Unfortunately, the number of soldiers suffering from PTSD is thought to be anywhere between 15-30% of all soldiers in the line of duty. 

Many soldiers afflicted by PTSD report having experienced one or more of the below symptoms with some frequency:

  • Distorted thinking that leads to blaming oneself for the event
  • Repeated dreams about the trauma
  • Persistent memories of the (often terrifying) event
  • Dissociative reactions or flashbacks in which the person relives the event
  • Negative outlook or beliefs about the world, oneself and others
  • Chronic negative state of emotions (shame, anger, guilt or fear)
  • Lack of interest in family, friends, hobbies and/or activities
  • Inability to feel positive emotions

Too often these symptoms go undiagnosed, are grappled with in solitude or are suppressed by any means necessary. 

How PTSD Can Lead to Addiction

Given the inherent negative and destructive nature of the above symptoms – and the intense desire to escape them – it’s not difficult to see how a dependence on drugs and alcohol might develop over time. The mind-altering effects of drugs and alcohol function as a coping mechanism and a form of escapism from an otherwise inescapable mental (or physical) anguish. 

The rate of alcoholism among veterans is high and while binge drinking may help someone mask their trauma in the moment, over the long-term it can have the reverse effect. Carol Galbicsek, writing for alcoholrehabguide.org notes that “Not only can [alcoholism] prolong PTSD symptoms, but it can also intensify them as well. Since alcohol is a depressant, drinking can exacerbate some PTSD symptoms such as anxiety, depression and insomnia.”

Many times drug dependency in veterans can also develop from opioid prescriptions for harsh drugs like hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Percocet) and morphine (Avinza) and fentanyl, that are meant to treat various afflictions soldiers experience such as depression, physical pain due to injury, sleep aids and more. These highly addictive opiates block pain receptors and release large amounts of dopamine (a chemical linked to experiencing pleasure) into the body – and are in the same chemical family as heroin, one of the most addictive and destructive illegal drugs on the market. 

Over time, heavy usage of drugs (both legal and illegal) and alcohol to suppress mental or physical pain has a strong tendency to develop into addiction. While what causes addiction can vary greatly from person to person, it is widely understood that one of the more common causes and obvious direct links to addiction is PTSD.

How PTSD and Addiction Can be Treated

Although PTSD and addiction are commonly linked, they are in fact their own disorders and when coupled together, should be treated as a co-occuring disorder, so that both disorders (substance abuse and mental health) are not only treated individually, but also in relation to each other. 

While the outlook may seem bleak, there is reason for optimism. Over the last decade, as governments and doctors learn more about these diseases, the ability to diagnose and then provide access to effective treatment to those in need has improved. 

Support in the form of inpatient rehab facilities such as ours, Renova Treatment centre, offers detox programs, professional counselling, 24/7 monitoring, group therapies and more, which help veterans acknowledge, accept and then deal with the underlying traumas they’ve experienced in a more holistic and constructive way. 

If you’re experiencing symptoms related to PTSD or substance abuse remember – you’re not alone. Contact Renova Treatment centre today to learn more about the benefits of inpatient care.