Soldiers, Substance Abuse and Trauma

Soldiers, Substance Abuse and Trauma

Serving in the armed forces is an honorable profession, but soldiers often brave situations that can cause considerable pain. This usually includes combat, where people may injure an enemy and/or witness the death of one of their own. These experiences can cause posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which may encourage soldiers to abuse drugs to cope. However, military personnel with these problems can recover if they seek professional help.

The Connection between Substance Abuse and Trauma

Combat is not the only way a soldier can experience trauma during a tour of duty; rather, it is just one of the many ways someone can become scarred from military service. For instance, many soldiers who return home from war abuse addictive substances, and many people who currently serve also struggle with this debilitating problem. Both war-related trauma and substance abuse are connected in the following ways:

  • Coping – Returning home after experiencing dangerous events like combat can emotionally cripple anyone. Soldiers might feel jittery, paranoid or even sad about their experiences, so they will seek any means to cope. To cope with anxiety and depression, soldiers may abuse drugs or alcohol to numb their pain.
  • Blocking memories – Many soldiers have recurring thoughts and/or flashbacks, which can be so intense that soldiers feel as if they are back on the front lines. Therefore, drinking or abusing drugs dull their awareness to their surroundings, including their recurring thoughts about war.
  • Fitting in – Readjusting to life after war can incredibly difficult for any soldier’s return, because she may feel disconnected from others in her life. Therefore, she may resort to drug or alcohol abuse to reduce stress and reconnect with friends, family and loved ones. Losing inhibitions through drug abuse can help people feel calmer, so they may get drunk to feel better.

Between trying to cope, block out memories and reengage in social settings, soldiers may abuse drugs to deal with the many issues that results from trauma.

Treatment for Soldiers with PTSD and Addiction

PTSD commonly drives soldiers to drug abuse, but there are many treatment methods that address both of these issues at the same time. For instance, soldiers can seek Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) as well as psychotherapy to treat both trauma and the resultant substance abuse. By engaging in Dual Diagnosis treatment, soldiers who survived trauma during war can get help to address both their mental and physical health.