PTSD & Alcohol Abuse in US Veterans

Published on July 21st, 2016

Something widely known and non-stereotypical is the fact that post-traumatic stress disorder occurs throughout the military. This condition occurs due to some sort of life-threatening event, such as sexual assault, major accidents, or warfare, among countless others. PTSD is relatively rare to develop, and obviously does not occur after each and every life-threatening event. However, in the military, the condition has been known of for quite some time.


It’s a widespread stereotype that those in the military drink lots of alcohol. Unfortunately, this stereotype is rooted in some truth. Up to 20% of all veterans are frequent heavy drinkers, as explained in a journal entry by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The same report shows military members to be 3.5 times more likely to engage in alcohol abuse than citizens.

Among US veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, alcoholism is a rampant disease, and vice-versa, veterans with alcoholism can easily develop PTSD.


The desired effects of alcohol may help cope with PTSD symptoms. Because alcohol makes one much less aware, triggers of PTSD may be relinquished. According to the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, 75% of those who have survived a violent traumatic episode report alcohol abuse problems. Because militant situations are a leading cause of PTSD, this suffices to say that a military member with PTSD has all-too-good of a chance of abusing alcohol. Aside from the numbing effects of alcohol, a traumatic event is known to spike endorphin levels as a natural defense. In turn, this creates a feeling of withdrawal after the shock of the event wears off. Many turn to alcohol to satisfy this withdrawal.

PTSDAlcohol exacerbates PTSD, however, making its symptoms even worse. Alcohol is a depressant, and it causes feelings of anger, irritability, and defensiveness. These factors significantly tie in with PTSD symptoms of lashing out and/or reacting adversely to a trigger. The emotional distress, pain, anxiety, and depression associated with PTSD are flared by alcohol abuse, which can make one exhibit the same qualities.


Because both alcoholism and PTSD are separate disorders, having both incurs the need for a dual diagnosis. First, the life-threateningly traumatic event occurs, whatever it may be. Next, the victim experiences terrifying memories, nightmares, and/or flashbacks. Next, the victim develops Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After that, the victim turns to alcohol to self-medicate. Finally, the victim disconnects from others and becomes dually diagnosed with alcoholism and PTSD. This timeline is a sadly accurate path many veterans take. A major reason many veterans do not seek help is guilt or shame.


Please know that if you or a loved one is affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, alcoholism, or both, there should be no guilt or shame. Help is available.

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