PTSD and Alcohol and Drugs

by Veteran Knowsley

If you have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), there’s a good chance you may be struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction. It has been reported British troops suffering from PTSD have been abusing alcohol to cope with anxiety and depression. A study found that 13 percent of British soldiers, as a whole ( and veterans), were misusing alcohol, which is not that much in the scheme of things. When compared to the percentage of soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan the number more than doubles. 36 percent of British troops were misusing (abusing) alcohol on a regular basis:

The statistics may vary, anywhere from 19 percent to more than 50 percent of people with PTSD also struggle with substance abuse.  I know I was slipping the road of alcohol problems. 2 bottles a night no problem. That was not every night but if I was down wine beer and spirits would also be on the menu. I have since New Year’s Day not touched a drop. During the January and February I went 50 days with feeling down.                                  

This information comes from a research study performed by scientists at the King’s Center for Military Health Research, which has been published in the journal, BMC Psychiatry.

To come up with the prevalence rates, the researchers interviewed a random sample of 821 UK combat vets. They found that of returning combat soldiers:

  • 18% were alcohol abusers

  • 13.5% suffered a mood disorder (depression or anxiety)

  • 4.8% experienced symptoms of PTSD

  • 27.2% suffered at least one mental health disorder

What leads people to drink heavy or use drugs? The reason is often because the symptoms of PTSD may be hard to bear. Many find that, abusing drugs and alcohol can help to hide the pain and nightmares of a traumatic memory. They want to mask the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with substances will not do anything to help you recover from PTSD. In fact, substance abuse will only worsen the disorder’s long-term effects. Seem to be drowning their sorrows at a greater rate than in previous years

Researchers have proposed a number of theories or explanations as to why people with PTSD have higher rates of alcohol and drug use.

The high-risk theory states that drug and alcohol problems occur before PTSD develops. Proponents of this model believe that the use of alcohol and drugs puts people at greater risk for experiencing traumatic events, and therefore, at greater risk for developing PTSD.

The self-medication theory states that people with PTSD use substances as a way of reducing distress tied to particular PTSD symptoms. There is a theory that there is something about alcohol and drug use that may increase a person's risk for developing PTSD symptoms after experiencing a traumatic event. This theory states that some people may have a genetic vulnerability that increases the likelihood that they will develop both PTSD and substance abuse problems following a traumatic event.

The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan has led to heightened interest in the welfare and health of regular and reserve soldiers on their return from duty, and their return to civilian life some drift into social exclusion such as those who become homeless and/or have severe mental health problems. The is very little is known about British Soldiers and Veterans as there has been no long-term follow-up of UK military personnel after they leave the armed forces.  The media sometimes helps but it seems the still is a lack of understanding in the Medical and Welfare profession.  

“Our view is that alcohol misuse is actually

 a greater problem for the armed forces than PTSD,"

Simon Wessely of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's,

A new study has revealed that as many as 23,000 members of the British Armed Forces - around one in seven - were drinking “hazardous and harmful” levels of alcohol. The study funded by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) showed those service members including men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are 22 percent more likely to develop serious drink-related problems than other troops.

Alcohol is part of time-honored rituals in the armed services that are allowed to go on to provide the social cohesion that the military wants so a culture of ritual drinking has developed. Increases in binge drinking in the military reflected the same trend in the wider population, but Professor Wessley added that females in the armed forces were now drinking more than men of the same age did in the general population.

“There has been no real leadership from the top to tackle this issue of alcohol misuse and the culture is simply handed down from generation to generation”, said spokesman for Alcohol Concern. In other words, our forces are drinking too much, not because they are traumatised, but for other reasons. That is scarcely surprising.

Society at large has a drink problem. If the forces are leading the charge it is to be expected. We are talking about young people, away from home. But it’s more than that. Drinking is embedded in their culture; it is almost part of the job. While in Iraq and Afghanistan troops are not allowed to touch a drop. Before and afterwards, drinking is seen both as crucial to team-building, and to relaxation after stress. The units that drink most together, have higher morale. So drinking is encouraged. It’s for the Army to decide what, if anything, they wish to do about the booze culture.

Most of those who'd taken drugs had probably succumbed to peer pressure. 'The army reflects society. When soldiers go away for the weekend, their drug of choice still tends to be alcohol. But some end up taking drugs instead, or as well. However, the prevalence of drug taking in the armed forces is still significantly less than an equivalent sample in civilian society. The renewed evidence of high rates of drug-taking in the forces comes amid long-running concerns that the stresses of warfare are turning many young recruits towards illegal substances.

More than 6,000 soldiers have failed drugs tests over the past decade. Figures from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) show that the main drug of choice for military personnel has been cocaine, with a fivefold increase in the number of soldiers failing tests for it between 2000 and 2008. There have been 6,360 failed drugs tests in the Army since 2000. About 58 soldiers have tested positive for heroin, 2,510 for cocaine and around 1,090 for ecstasy. Though the MoD maintained it "did not tolerate" drug use among its troops, the figures show that about 1,300 offenders avoided being discharged.

The vast majority of soldiers cope with the stresses of combat without turning to drugs and we must congratulate both them and the Armed Services for this. The usage of cocaine has been rising steadily year-on-year since 2000.  In 2009 figures showed a sudden fall by about 50 per cent.

 Some claims he been made that British troops are involved in heroin trafficking in Afghanistan.    The Ministry of Defence that military police were investigating the alleging that soldiers sent to fight the Taliban were buying drugs from Afghan dealers and shipping them back to Britain. The claim is that heroin and other drugs are being smuggled in by a handful of the hundreds of soldiers returning each week to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. The consequences for any soldiers who might be involved in drug-smuggling will feel the full weight of the law.

The Army is not full of drunks and drug takers. If the MOD does look at the problem it will increase. This problem will not go away.  Remember one day that soldier will return to civilian life.His life style will change he will have to face more problems. Some face them others fall by the way side.  Those who fall end up on the streets or in to crime. The sad fact is 11% of people in prison are veterans. Homeless the figures are between 25% and 33%. You can see were those problems leads if a care plan is not put into place. 

Comments

Hi I've followed your posts since the beginning and you have really given me, for the first time, an insight into what it's like to suffer PTSD. I really feel for you and what you've been through and are going through and I wanted to share with you two programmes which were on BBC Radio 4 last week, where I used to be a reporter, about PTSD. One was about erasing memories and desensitisation and future hopes of treatments including medication to help people with PTSD to recover.  bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b012lj4m/Erased_Memories_and_Spotless_Minds/ And on Midweek with Anita Anand, leading expert in PTSD Professor Gordon Turnbull described how he spent his career fighting for official recognition of the diagnosis of PTSD. It's a fascinating interview and I thoroughly recommend listening, if you can.  bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b012l4n8/Midweek_20_07_2011/ Both programmes are available to listen to until Wed 27/7/11 within the UK.

Thank you for kind remarks. I have noted your tips.  I hope I can fit them in after I been to Combat Stress out reach clinic tomorrow .

When I am writing my blogI try to not use any fancy words unless it is the only way. I find K I S S works for me.
I have been asked by RBL to tell my story for the fund rasing book in The Manchester area. This is part of a joint project with Combat Stress.

My time out in N Ireland was 1973 till Nov 1974. As you knows I had my family with me. One thing the Bomb and follow by the UWC strike did it built a bond that is still strong today.

My next blog is about veterans in jail and homeless veterans .

I have been lucky in that way but sadly it has ruin my marriage of 42years my wife left me 2 1/2 years ago. She could not put up with the person I was becoming.

Thank you again

Keith                                                                                               Knowsley Veteran.

knowsleyveterans@gmail.com.

I have had PTSD since 82 NI, it took me until 99 to get diagnosed, as i had many mis-diagnosis such as ME, Malaria etc. Done the combat stress thing but it didnt work for me, two of my kids have PTSD by proxy, both suicidal, self-harming, panic attacks on meds. Not much practical or effective help about at all.
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