Understanding the Connection Between Veterans, Alcoholism, and PTSD

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While those in the military perform a great service to this country while they are active, they are often forgotten about once they leave active duty and return to normal civilian life. The transition back to civilian life can be difficult enough on its own but on top of that, many returning from active duty are also suffering from PTSD as a result of what they saw and did while serving. There is a clear connection between PTSD and substance abuse in veterans.

Many who are suffering from PTSD when they return don’t have a support system to return to or are scared or ashamed of what they did/witnessed. Many are hesitant to talk about it. This leads many to turn to substances, such as alcohol, as a way to self-medicate and numb the pain associated with PTSD. They may try to forget about what they saw and did. In order to help those that are suffering from PTSD and substance abuse, it’s important to understand the connection between PTSD and substance abuse in veterans.

What Exactly Is PTSD?

man with PTSD health condition problemPTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that occurs when the body and mind’s natural response to a traumatic event continues long after the event has happened. What constitutes a traumatic event can vary from person to person. In the case of veterans, those traumatic events or experiences are directly linked to their time in active duty such as accidents, killings, natural disasters, or any other traumatic event.

For those suffering from PTSD, while the traumatic event might have happened in the past, to them it still feels like it is happening. Some common symptoms experienced by those suffering from PTSD include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Flashbacks
  • Paranoia
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Insomnia

What Is the Connection Between PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans?

Many who are suffering from PTSD don’t really know how to handle their suffering. For some, they simply do not have a support system that can help them deal with the symptoms associated with the trauma. Others are ashamed or embarrassed by what they did or what they witnessed that led to the development of PTSD in the first place.

Unfortunately, instead of talking to someone or getting professional help, many of these people turn to substances to help deal with the pain and suffering so they can try and forget about what happened for a little. One of the more popular substances is alcohol due in large part to the ease with which it can be obtained in a legal manner.

While those suffering might experience temporary relief from these substances, in the long run, they are doing more harm than good. In fact, constantly consuming large amounts of alcohol as a way of seeking temporary relief can actually worsen the symptoms associated with PTSD. It can ultimately result in prolonged and more intense feelings of insomnia, anxiety, and even depression which is the exact opposite of the intention when drinking. This can also lead to the development of a substance abuse issue which, in combination with PTSD, can be tougher to overcome because of the lingering mental health issues that are associated with PTSD.

What is the Connection Between PTSD and Alcohol Abuse in Veterans?

As we touched on above, while veterans suffering from PTSD might turn to alcohol for some immediate relief, they are actually doing more harm than good in the long run. Let’s take a look at some of the negative effects drinking as a way of self-medicating can have on those returning from active duty.

Challenges At Home

Being deployed and away from family members and loved ones can put even the strongest relationships to the test. After returning home, it can sometimes be difficult to adjust back into civilian life and the relationships that go along with it. Add in the use and abuse of alcohol and that can add another layer to an already challenging home environment. The combination of heavy drinking and PTSD can lead to domestic violence or abuse, assault, and even child neglect or abuse.


While some have a home to return to once returning from active duty, there are many that don’t. Tens of thousands of military members return home with nowhere to go once they get back. They have nowhere to live, no job, no insurance that could allow them to get help, and are constantly searching for their next meal. This can lead to stronger feelings of depression, anxiety, and just overall hopelessness. Many of these people turn to drugs and alcohol because, in their minds, there is no hope and no fixing the problem.

Suicide of Self-Harm

Re-entering regular society after serving in the military can be a stressful and difficult situation on its own. Add in the effects of PTSD and for some, it can be downright unbearable. Those who turn to alcohol might find themselves even more depressed than they were before since alcohol is a depressant. This, unfortunately, can lead to attempts of suicide or self-harm.

How Can I Spot A Veteran Suffering From Substance Abuse?

Oftentimes, veterans who are suffering from PTSD and substance abuse will do all that they can to hide from people that they are suffering. Since they are often ashamed or embarrassed they don’t want others to know that they are suffering. This can make it more difficult for family members and loved ones to spot any issues that are occurring so that they can get them the help that they need. While it is not always easy to spot, there are certain signs of substance abuse to look out for, especially when it comes to drinking. These include:

  • Trying to hide bottles of alcohol, either full or empty
  • Regularly drinking in private
  • Showing no interest in activities, hobbies, or other things they used to enjoy
  • Acting aggressively towards others
  • Experiencing irritability or hostility
  • Putting themselves or others in danger as a result of drinking

If you or someone you know is showing any of these signs it is important to get help before things get worse and it is too late. There are many different options out there for getting help and many people out there that want to help as well.

What Are The Treatment Options For Those Suffering from PTSD and Substance Abuse?

While those coming back from combat who are suffering from PTSD and substance abuse might think that they are alone, they are far from it. Many treatment programs and facilities have special programs that are designed to help treat veterans that are suffering from PTSD and also who might have developed a substance abuse issue as a result of said PTSD. So, what are some of the treatment options that are available? Let’s take a look.


For anyone suffering from a substance abuse issue in addition to PTSD, the first step for them is to enter a detox program.  This helps rid their body of those harmful substances before treatment can begin. Detoxing should be done under the care and supervision of trained medical professionals. This can be done at either a local medical facility, a dedicated detox facility, or a treatment center that also offers detox services such as Free by the Sea. Attempting to self-detox can be incredibly dangerous or even life-threatening.


After detox has been completed, or if detox isn’t needed, the next step is to enter into a treatment program. This can be either an inpatient or outpatient treatment program depending on what your treatment professional recommends. During inpatient treatment, the person will live at the facility for the duration of their treatment while outpatient treatment allows the person to go to the facility to complete their treatment and go home at the end of the day.

During treatment, whether it be inpatient or outpatient, the main aspect will be both group and individual therapy sessions. During these therapy sessions, the person in treatment will have the opportunity to talk about their PTSD as well as the substance abuse issue that developed as a result of it. They will also learn ways in which they can live their life without needing drugs and/or alcohol to get through the day. These therapy sessions, especially group therapy, can be a great way to help build the support system needed to remain clean and sober even after treatment has ended.

Want To Know More About PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans?

Many Veterans returning home do so suffering from PTSD. This can lead to the development of a substance abuse issue if not treated right away. When it comes to PTSD and substance abuse in veterans, it’s important to get proper help sooner rather than later. At Free by the Sea, we understand the complications that veterans deal with mentally when they return from active duty which is why it is our goal to get every veteran the help that they need. If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD and a substance abuse issue, contact us today to learn more about how we can help.