This Veterans Day, we recognize those who fought courageously to protect our freedoms and national security. Veterans often face a difficult return to civilian life, and reports show that more than 60,000 U.S. veterans died from suicide between 2008 and 2017. As many as 20% of veterans from all service eras have PTSD, and the rate is so high because military service members are exposed to life-threatening situations and must be on high alert at all times. Sexual assault is also alarmingly prevalent, with about 20% of female veterans reporting sexual assault in the military, and more than half reporting sexual harassment.
Those who have PTSD may avoid people, places, or situations that are triggering to them, and they suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts. To cope, they may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate as a way to numb their pain and calm their nerves. They may feel isolated and ashamed of their PTSD, as seeking mental health services may make them feel weak due to the stigma surrounding mental illness. This only perpetuates their substance abuse as they continue to drink or use drugs as a way to avoid seeking effective treatment.
So, what can be done to help veterans who suffer from addiction and substance abuse? How can veterans overcome their painful memories and live a life free from the grips of intrusive thoughts and triggering situations?
Effective Treatments for Veterans with Substance Abuse & PTSD
Many treatments are used for those suffering from substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), from talk therapy and medications. The medications the American Psychiatric Association recommends are antidepressants called serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that work with the serotonin chemical in the brain to regulate mood and other functions. This effective treatment for PTSD works best in combination with talk therapy.
Treatment for PTSD should be personalized, as no two veterans recover in quite the same way. Patients under medical care for PTSD and substance abuse should also be incredibly diligent in following their medical provider’s advice when it comes to taking their medications to minimize the potential risks and maximize the benefits of their treatment. Veterans addicted to drugs or alcohol need a specialized treatment approach. The mental and physical problems these patients suffer from makes it important to seek treatment as soon as possible for the best result and recovery from PTSD and addiction.
Why Benzos Aren’t Recommended for Veterans
Although other medications may be prescribed in addition to antidepressants, tranquilizers such as benzodiazepines (“benzos”) are not recommended. The U.S. Departments of Veteran Affairs, more commonly called the VA, advises against tranquilizer use for veterans with PTSD. While benzo pills such as Xanax or Valium are often prescribed for PTSD to manage anxiety and insomnia, they often do more harm than good in those coping with traumatic memories, particularly veterans. They are ineffective in the long-term because they do not help veterans overcome their avoidance of triggering situations, which can prolong their PTSD. There is also evidence that the potential long-term harms posed by benzo use outweigh any of the short-term benefits of benzo use.
One potential risk of benzo use among veterans with PTSD is substance use disorder (SUD), and benzo addiction is a real threat. Not all medical care providers are aware of this guideline, though, meaning they continue to prescribe benzos for anxiety management. The reason benzos are not recommended is that they impede other more effective treatments for PTSD, including PTSD treatments geared to trauma survivors. The first-line, golden standard treatment for PTSD treatment is called prolonged exposure therapy, which gradually helps patients confront their trauma-related thoughts and situations.
Addressing Your PTSD Symptoms
If you are a veteran and addicted to benzos, we can help. Our goal at The Carter Treatment Center is to help you reacclimate to civilian life and learn how to cope with your memories through carefully guided talk therapy in a holistic treatment approach combining elements of individual and group talk therapy, life skills coaching, yoga, and more.