For the Combat Veteran with PTSD, Heavy Drinking Doesn’t Help

Dec 16, 2010 by

For the Combat Veteran with PTSD, Heavy Drinking Doesn’t Help

The source of the following material may surprise you:

“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?”

None other than the book of Proverbs, a staple in the Judeo-Christian wisdom literature, which goes on to warn about the perils of drinking too much:

“In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind will imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. “They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?” — Proverbs 23:19-35.

As we slide into the holiday season — a time that puts many people on edge, not just combat veterans with PTSD — it seems wise to remind ourselves that heavy drinking/binge drinking is not exactly a “recipe for success” and improved psychological health. Quite the opposite, usually. It’s also known to be a contributing factor in suicide, domestic violence, and motor vehicle accidents,; not to mention, it can often mask another underlying condition, such as chronic depression.

(Multiple studies on teens and young adults have shown that binge drinking, particularly when combined with depression, can increase risk of suicide — both attempts and completion. And many veterans, of course, aren’t much older than those studied. As Suicide.org, a 501(c)3 nonprofit website writes, “Thus, if a depressed [young person] had suicidal thoughts, he or she was much more likely to act on those thoughts after binge drinking.” It’s a major risk. The same is true for older veterans. As the VA states, “Veterans over the age of 65 with PTSD are at higher risk for a suicide attempt if they also have drinking problems or depression.”)

The VA’s National Center for PTSD, in an article called “PTSD and Problems with Alcohol Abuse,” makes the statement that “War veterans with PTSD and alcohol problems tend to be binge drinkers. Binges may be in response to memories of trauma.” They also clarify that “Alcohol use problems make PTSD treatment less effective.” That’s true whether the treatments of choice are mainstream (talk therapy and pharmaceuticals) or outside-the-box (complementary and alternative medicine).

Veterans who whipsaw between sobriety or limited alcohol use and heavy drinking or binge drinking may find their healing progress undercut completely, not to mention their relationships with friends and family members strained. (More so family members than friends, since combat buddies often make drinking heavily part of their shared experience while reminiscing about deployments.)

Combining heavy alcohol use with PTSD, and possibly traumatic brain injury (TBI) in situations with readily-available weapons, whatever medication is already on board, added into what are sometimes often already strained domestic relationships, complete with threats of suicide and violence, can be an absolute powder-keg. Not a few veterans or their spouses and family members have expressed concern about the volatility and unpredictability of this particular mix. Heavy alcohol use exacerbates the problems that are already there, drains the family finances, and lowers inhibitions, which can be a deadly combination.

If alcohol abuse is affecting your or veteran’s life to a significant degree, particularly with the holidays approaching, it might be time to think about tapering off, not up, and getting professional advice on how to quit (or at least slow down). As the VA’s own material states, going cold-turkey is not necessarily the best bet: “When you suddenly stop drinking, the nightmares often get worse. Working with your doctor on the best way to reduce or stop your drinking makes cutting back on alcohol easier. You will be more likely to have success in your efforts.”

1 Comment

  1. Lily,
    Again, thank you for another timely article. I’m certain the demons released in torturous PTSD events by Veterans , urban dwellers of violence, domestic violence, and other horrific situations are bits of particles which will ultimately combine to unravel society’s ability to feel our own humanity.