Do You Turn to Alcohol for PTS Relief? You’re Not Alone, and Help is Available

By Liz Grow, MA, LPC

It’s no secret that many adults use a drink to unwind after a long workday. For many, a glass of wine or a beer is a ritual that signals a transition out of the stress in the workplace and into to a more casual and comfortable mindset. Troops are no different, but often, their stressors are related to their physical safety and extend well beyond the 9-to-5.

A recent study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), showed that 27% of Army soldiers screened 3 to 4 months after returning from deployment to Iraq met the criteria for alcohol abuse.

One explanation for the high percentage of alcohol abuse is that soldiers are self-medicating with alcohol because they’re suffering from readjustment issues beyond their control. Self-medicating is used to escape or alleviate distressing symptoms brought on by post-traumatic stress.  Rather than dealing head-on with post-deployment readjustment issues, many troops turn to alcohol to numb their feelings of vulnerability and anxiety, and to “feel normal” again, even if only for a brief time.

One doesn’t need a study to know that self-medicating with alcohol is a serious issue within the military community. With the recent troop withdrawals, the health community fears that the problem will only grow. Among people with diagnosed PTS, approximately 40% have also been addicted to alcohol. PTS sufferers use alcohol to quell the most common symptoms of PTS such as hypervigilance, insomnia, and anxiety.

It’s crucial that soldiers have alternate methods of stress-reduction and use them on a regular basis. Becoming dependent upon alcohol can lead to risk-taking behaviors, loss of relationships, financial distress, and even job loss. Alcohol use will only compound the problems of a soldier suffering from post-traumatic or combat operational stress, and will most certainly delay a healthy recovery.

Exercise, meditation, and taking on a hobby are all great ways to reduce levels of stress. If you feel that your readjustment issues are bigger than stress management, it’s important that you consult with your physician about other ways in which you can keep your readjustment issues in check and work toward feeling normal again.

If you think that you may be using alcohol to manage post-deployment stress and to avoid facing the readjustment issues that you’re experiencing, reach out for help. You can take a free, anonymous alcohol use assessment.You’re not alone, and trying to deal with your issues alone will only prolong the suffering. Solicit the help of your support system and reach out to one of the many communities that can help you work through your readjustment issues in a healthy way. You can find ample resources on Military Pathways, or through your local VA.

Liz Grow, MA, LPC is the Director of Counseling Partnerships for Fidelis, a technology company committed to solving the military to civilian career transition challenge. As a former psychotherapist and Army brat, Liz is committed to serving those men and women of the military who want to find as much success in the civilian workplace as they have in the military.