PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, affects millions of Americans each year. For military veterans, the risk of PTSD is much higher due to the stressful environment of combat. It can be difficult to know how to cope with the disorder upon returning home, especially when it leads–as it so often does–to depression, anxiety, addiction, or suicidal thoughts.
The good news is that there are many resources and treatments available for PTSD sufferers, and many people who will work hard to help sufferers feel safe, including therapists, counselors, and support groups. The key to finding healthy ways to cope is simply trusting in yourself and keeping in mind that you have the strength to get through the rough times. Facing the bad memories doesn’t sound appealing, but often it’s the best way to move past them.
PTSD can cause nightmares, flashbacks, loss of sleep or appetite, isolation from friends and family, a lack of desire to leave the house, or any combination of these things. It’s understandable that a person who has been through a traumatic event might not want to put themselves into a situation which might trigger bad memories, but some therapists believe that’s exactly what must be done in order to begin healing. Called cognitive behavioral therapy, it focuses on the individual thinking deliberately about a particularly traumatic moment and re-living it in order to train the mind to move through it rather than around it. Facing this fear can have a profound effect on the individual, although it’s not recommended that a person tries this without the supervision of a professional.
Animal therapy has also been shown to help those suffering from PTSD. Rover has a great article about how service and therapy dogs are helping victims of the disorder.
Many PTSD sufferers rely on medication to help them keep symptoms under control, or a combination of medication and therapy. It is extremely important for the sufferer to be completely honest with their healthcare provider about their daily habits, including whether they use drugs or drink alcohol. Substances can exacerbate PTSD symptoms, can cause depression and suicidal thoughts, and can mask other potential problems such as undiagnosed mood and mental disorders.
Aside from that, substance abuse is fairly common among veterans and is closely linked to self-harm. Even if there was no substance abuse issue before the PTSD symptoms began, veterans are at a high risk for developing a problem. There are many reasons why, but the most common are that alcohol helps numb emotional pain and is believed to help bring on restful sleep, although that’s a common misconception. Alcohol actually affects rest negatively and makes the individual feel less rested the next day.
Substance abuse can also exacerbate issues a PTSD sufferer may already have upon returning home from combat, such as family problems, physical pain, or issues with functioning at work or school. If you or someone you love is abusing drugs or alcohol, don’t be afraid to speak up and start a conversation. Ask for help, or offer it to a loved one.
Social isolation, substance abuse, and depression can be a deadly combination, and unfortunately PTSD sufferers are prone to all three. Add that to the fact that many veterans have access to weapons and you have a worrisome equation that could prove to be fatal. Drugs and alcohol increase the likelihood of impulsive behavior, and feelings of depression and isolation can make it easy to believe that no one cares. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are trained professionals waiting to help.
Amy is a survivor and “thriver” of PTSD, and is touring nationwide with her speaking, performances and presentations on trauma. Love My Detour: Post Traumatic Gifts Programming is now listed as part of the National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military, and can be found on the National Initiative Directory, as well as www.ArtsAcrosstheMilitary.org.