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Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Vietnam War, PTSD and Addiction

There is a significant number of people working programs of addiction recovery today who are living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A serious mental health condition involving individuals who feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger. In many cases, people’s addiction was the result of coping with untreated PTSD. The symptoms can be blunted, for a time, by drugs and alcohol; but, in the end substance use and abuse only serves to worsen one's symptoms. When one’s PTSD is triggered while in recovery, there is great risk of relapse.

The disorder can manifest itself in a number of ways, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), such as:
  • Re-experiencing Symptoms: Flashbacks, bad dreams and frightening thoughts.
  • Avoidance Symptoms: staying away from places, events, or objects linked to the trauma. Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the trauma.
  • Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms: Being easily startled, feeling tense or “on edge,” difficulty sleeping and outbursts of anger.
  • Cognition and Mood Symptoms: Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event, negative thoughts about oneself or the world, distorted feelings like guilt or blame and loss of interest in enjoyable activities.
PTSD can occur in anyone who has experienced a traumatic event, such as a violent attack or serious injury. However, the condition is most commonly associated with combat veterans, and for good reason. Those who go off to war or armed conflict of any kind are exposed to horrific events. Asked to do things that under normal circumstances would be unthinkable. While most people make it through to the other side of battle without the lingering effects of trauma, many are not so fortunate. People with PTSD are at risk of being triggered by a host of cues for the rest for their lives.


The Vietnam War and PTSD

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans. As was pointed out earlier, PTSD episodes can be triggered by anything linked to the traumatic event. So, it is fair to say that "The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick" is the epitome of a trigger. The ten-part, 18-hour documentary film series is chock full of the graphic images and sounds of one of the darkest chapters in American history.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is urging Vietnam Vets to take precaution if they are planning to watch the series. Watch the series with a loved one and be prepared to reach out for help from the VA. Viewing the documentary can easily trigger PTSD.

PTSD and Addiction

Many Vietnam Veterans went years before seeking help for their PTSD. The United States has been in many armed conflicts since that time, and there are many young men and women who are
self-medicating their PTSD with drugs and alcohol today. Treatment works, but it requires that both the PTSD and substance use disorder be treated at the same time. If you or a loved one is living with addiction and a co-occurring mental health disorder like PTSD, please contact Celebrate Hope at Hope by The Sea.

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