Self medicating among our veterans is a growing problem that we will be dealing with for decades to come. Many of our veterans who have PTSD, self medicate with either alcohol or drugs. Sometimes, the drugs are street drugs and other times the drugs are prescription drugs. Today, I am addressing alcohol.
I’m by no means an expert on numbers or study cases, but personally – I have many veterans who are friends that drink nightly to forget about their problems… hoping, for just one minute their memories of war will fade. I remember an old friend of mine whose a mother who was an alcoholic. I remember when she started drinking. It was just one beer a night… soon, it was 2, 3 and 4 beers a night… then, it was a six pack of beer. The more she drank, the more alcohol she thought she could handle. This woman was not a veteran, and she did not have PTSD. She started drinking because she wanted to relax from every day stress… nothing major.
Now, take a veteran with PTSD… someone who can’t fall asleep at night because he or she has vivid visions of horrific events that they cannot forget. Some veterans are given sleep medication. Sometimes the sleep medication helps, sometimes it doesn’t. Some veterans think a few drinks will help them relax, but in fact… many times their plan backfires because just one drink can’t help them to relax.
I was talking to my husbands doctor about our veterans and health care. We started talking about veterans who self medicate, and then we started talking about drinking. He explained in simple terminology why PTSD and drinking do not mix well at all. He gave a great description I’d like to share with you all.
Take a pressure cooker for example, you turn it on a while to cook. If the seal on the pressure cooker doesn’t work well, the pressure cooker can actually explode all over your kitchen. Everyone knows that drinking too much causes impaired judgement, and bad decision making. Some people who drink too much become violent. Take someone with PTSD who experience some of these same symptoms when they are sober. Now, take someone who has PTSD who is drinking too much… think about the pressure cooker again. Those who have PTSD are like a pressure cooker and can do a pretty good job maintaining a decent seal on their emotions with the help of counseling and sometimes medications… but, once you throw alcohol into that mix… the seal becomes brittle, which can cause a dangerous explosion.
Of course, the person with PTSD who is drinking does not see a problem… there are many problems that can manifest in our veterans who have PTSD that are drinking. Drinking and many medications do not mix. This can cause an adverse health effects. Some medications can even cause death if mixed with alcohol. Drinking can become an addiction, which can lead to family problems, financial problems, irrational thoughts of suicide, homelessness and so on.
If you are a veteran who realizes you are drinking a little too much, please speak to someone about this. It’s nothing to be ashamed about.
Here are a few links that may be of help to you:
If you know a veteran who has a drinking problem, wait until they are sober and try to talk to them. Let them know you care about them, you love them and you don’t want to see him or her hurting. If you don’t say anything, it’s possible no one will before real harm is done.
Side note that needs to be addressed: I am a little upset about veteran non-profit organizations that promote drinking in their establishment. Now more than ever, our veterans are reaching out to organizations for help, for friendship with others of like mind. When our veterans are gathering in spots that serve alcohol, to someone who has PTSD and/or TBI sometimes they will drink way too much before realizing it.