(Excerpt from The Endless Journey Home by Specialist Joe Collins)
This is one of the most important symptoms to watch out for, and the most dangerous. If it is not caught early enough, or if the soldier is misdiagnosed, the soldier can be sent down a dangerous and painful path of drug or alcohol abuse.
For those soldiers who aren’t abusing drugs and suffering from PTSD, they will often turn to alcohol to try and numb the pain of the symptoms and/or the painful emotional memories that they are suffering from and experiencing.
Other soldiers might start to become aware of their problems and seek medical help. But if they seek help with someone who does not have a full understanding of PTSD, it is easy to misdiagnose and be given medications that can make things worse. This is tragic because the soldiers’ “goal” isn’t to become an “addict”. But, if a soldier is given something that helps ease the pain, then before long, they can be abusing the drug or alcohol that they think is relieving it.
If you notice some of the symptoms listed, it is best to avoid alcohol and medications until you speak with a counselor or psychiatrist. If you can start a path toward recovery without being prescribed ANYTHING, then take that opportunity.
If you are abusing drugs or alcohol, or you know of a returned soldier who is, then immediate intervention is needed. Be careful in the way you approach the intervention, because it is often met with anger and aggression and possibly violence, depending upon the level of PTSD and if the soldier is self-medicating. Take precautions if you plan to intervene by finding a counselor or expert in war related PTSD to help guide you.
It is important to remember that the soldier didn’t just wake up one day and say, “I am going to become an alcoholic or addict.” The soldier is in pain and trying to find something to take the pain away. They just don’t realize that self-medicating only makes things harder to deal with in the end.