PTSD Awareness has a month (it’s June), but we need to take notice throughout the entire year to consider connections between veterans and substance use disorders. Before delving into the statistics, let us acknowledge the great cost of military service: soldiers accept uncertainty, danger, violence and responsibilities that are literally life and death. Living this kind of life can pay a heavy toll. The return to civilian or “normal” life can be an incredibly challenging transition for people who have spent countless hours in crisis mode while carrying out the directives of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Veterans were tasked with maintaining a certain edge while in military service. This is a sort of edge that civilians could never understand: a soldier’s return to his or her community cannot possibly match the edge present in service. As a result, many seek to maintain that edge through substance use. On the other hand, substances may be used to eliminate or subdue that edge. Regardless of one’s opinion in respect to war and the activities of soldiers as directed by the U.S. Department of Defense, no one can deny the difficulties faced by soldiers returning to civilian life. The questions are: one, what are the current conditions impacting veterans; and two, how can these conditions be improved?
Current Conditions Impacting Veterans
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently reported statistics on PTSD and Substance Use Disorder in Veterans:
“How common is co-occurring PTSD and SUD in Veterans?
- More than 2 of 10 Veterans with PTSD also have SUD.
- Almost 1 out of every 3 Veterans seeking treatment for SUD also has PTSD.
- The number of Veterans who smoke (nicotine) is almost double for those with PTSD (about 6 of 10) versus those without a PTSD diagnosis (3 of 10).
- In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 1 in 10 returning Veterans seen in VA have a problem with alcohol or other drugs.
- War Veterans with PTSD and alcohol problems tend to binge drink. Binge drinking is when a person drinks a lot of alcohol (4-5 drinks or more) in a short period of time (1-2 hours).”
How Conditions for Veterans May Be Improved
One key resource for veterans is About Face, an organization dedicated to Veterans, family members, and clinicians sharing their experiences with PTSD and PTSD treatment. Through video testimonials and stories, people can gain a greater understanding of the shared struggle experienced by veterans and learn how others have learned to cope with PTSD. As they say on their website: “By watching the videos on AboutFace, you can learn about PTSD, explore treatment options, and get advice from others who have been there.”
Another resource for veterans is VetChange. The website details its intentions in this way: “VetChange is a free, confidential online program to help you take control of your drinking and learn to manage PTSD symptoms without using alcohol.”
A third resource for veterans includes various Apps such as PTSD Coach that can be helpful: “Our mobile applications (apps) provide self-help, education and support following trauma. We also have treatment companion apps, for use with a health care provider, to make treatment easier. There are apps for iOS and Android devices.” While these apps are great for confidential, self-guided help, the National Center for PTSD offers a reminder for veterans struggling with PTSD or substance use: “PTSD is a serious mental health condition that often needs professional evaluation and treatment. These apps are not intended to replace needed professional care.”
Acknowledging PTSD Month
If you know a veteran, this is the perfect time to reach out and offer your companionship. For veterans, a return to normalcy can be a welcome thing. Take the veteran in your life out for coffee, tea, juice or just cook up a down-home meal and build community together. The more things get out in the open, the better our chances to understand each other become. And that’s what it’s all about, becoming kinder, more understanding and more connected in our community. PTSD is not going away: the horrors of war are real and the consequences carried by military service continue as long as battles wage: the more we accept, understand and work to support our veterans, the better our world becomes.