STRESS, TRAUMA, AND ALCOHOL AND DRUG USE
A NATIONAL CENTER FOR PTSD FACT SHEET
Robyn D. Walser, Ph.D
Drinking to Reduce Stress
Many military personnel experience stress related to their deployment, service, and return home. These quite natural stress reactions can range from mild to severe and may be either short-lived or persist for a very long time. One common approach to managing stress that seems a simple and easy solution is the use of alcohol and/or drugs. Military personnel, like civilians, may use alcohol and/or drugs as a way to relax or reduce anxiety and other bad feelings. In some cases, alcohol and/or drugs are not only used to decrease stress but also to manage severe symptoms that can arise from a traumatic experience in the war zone. You might find yourself drinking and/or using drugs for a variety of reasons when under stress or after trauma, including to:
- Help yourself sleep
- Decrease sadness
- Help yourself be around others
- Decrease emotional pain
- Increase pleasurable experience
- Keep upsetting memories from coming to mind
- “Drown” your worries
- Escape present difficulties
- Calm anxiety
- “Shake off” stress
Becoming Dependent on Alcohol/Drugs
Initially, alcohol and drugs may seem to make things better. They may help you sleep, forget problems, or feel more relaxed. But any short-term benefit can turn sour fast. In the long run, using alcohol and drugs to cope with stress will cause a whole new set of very serious problems, as well as worsening the original problems that led you to drink or use drugs in the first place. Alcohol and drug abuse can cause problems with your family life, health, mental well-being, relationships, finances, employment, spirituality, and sense of self-worth.
Think about family impact as an example. It’s difficult to create good relationships when you are regularly drunk or high. Being intoxicated decreases intimacy and creates an inability to communicate well. Family members can feel rejected by someone who is always under the influence. In addition, witnessing someone’s behavior while under the influence can be distressing. Children may not understand the aggressive behavior, the shutting down, or the hiding out that can occur along with substance use. The fallout from an accident or an arrest can have a long-lasting impact on a family. Alcohol and drug problems are dangerous for loved ones because they are often linked with family violence and driving while intoxicated.
When is the Use of Alcohol a Problem?
It is often hard to decide whether alcohol or drug use is becoming a problem. It can happen gradually, and sometimes it can be hard to notice by the person who is using. Here are things that people sometimes say to themselves to convince themselves that they do not have a problem. Do you recognize any?
- “I just drink beer (wine)”
- “I don’t drink every day”
- “I don’t use hard drugs”
- “I’ve never missed a day of work”
- “I’m not an alcoholic”
- “I don’t need help, I can handle it.”
- “I gave it up for 3 weeks last year ‘myself'”.
Alcohol or drug use can be considered a problem when it causes difficulties, even in minor ways. Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to see if you are developing a problem:
- Have friends or family members commented on how much or how often you drink?
- Have you have found yourself feeling guilty about your drinking or drug use?
- Have you found yourself drinking (using) more over time?
- Have you tried to cut down your alcohol (drug) use?
- Does your drinking (using drugs) ever affect your ability to fulfill personal obligations such as parenting or work?
- Do you drink (use) in situations that are physically dangerous such as driving or operating machinery while under the influence?
- Have you found that you need more alcohol (drug) to get the same effect?
If you find that you are answering “yes” to one or more of these questions, perhaps it is time to reevaluate your use, cut back,
and seek help from friends, family, or a professional.
What to Do if Alcohol or Drugs are Causing Problems?
If you think that alcohol (drug) use has become (or is becoming) a problem for you, there are a number of things that you can do. First, recognize that you are not alone and that others are available to lend support. Second, find help. Getting help is the most useful tool
in decreasing or stopping problem drinking or drug use, even if you have doubts about being able to quit or if you are feeling guilt about the problem. Call your health provider, contact a physician or therapist, call your local VA hospital, or contact your local Alcoholic’s Anonymous for guidance in your recovery. These contacts can help you on the road to the life you want.
Medical problems associated with alcohol are: hypertension, congestive heart failure, liver disease, seizures, injury, medication interactions, psychiatric disorders, and depression. If you have any concerns about your alcohol intake please report to the Alcohol Drug Treatment Program on the 2nd floor of the La Jolla VA Hospital.
Where to seek help:
VA-Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program (ADTP)
3350 La Jolla Village Dr. – 2 West
San Diego, CA 92161
Available treatments address all types of problems related to substance use, from unhealthy use of alcohol to life-threatening addictions.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
7075 Mission Gorge Road, Suite B
San Diego, CA 92120
(619) 265-8762 (24 Hours a day)
Provides fellowship and support to men and women who want to help themselves and others achieve and maintain sobriety.
Veterans Rehabilitation Center, VRC – Veterans Village of San Diego
4141 Pacific Hwy.
San Diego, CA 92110
Provides a residential early treatment program for homeless veterans who have substance abuse issues. The VRC offers homeless veterans a safe, clean, and sober village-like setting for several months to a year, depending upon individual needs. VRC is integrated with structured case management and mental health therapy.
Alcohol and Drug Services
(888) 724-7240 24-hour Behavioral Health Services Access and Crisis Line sandiegocounty.gov/hhsa/programs/bhs/alcohol_drug_services/
Administers, coordinates, plans, and directs a comprehensive alcohol and other drug service delivery system throughout San Diego County. Provides referrals for individuals to appropriate treatment and recovery services for adults, adolescents, and pregnant and parenting women.
House of Metamorphosis
2970 Market Street
San Diego, CA 92102
Provides residential treatment for alcohol and drug abusers. Treatment includes individual, group, and family counseling; anger management; recreation therapy; psychiatric evaluations; parenting classes; substance abuse education; job readiness training; and referral services. Sober living facilities are available to graduates of the residential treatment program, mental health services. HoM also provides community education on drug abuse prevention.
Provides a variety of services for alcohol abuse and dependency, including non-medical residential detox facilities, regional recovery centers, sober living transitional housing programs, and counseling programs. Multiple locations exist throughout San Diego County.
Substance Abuse Counseling and Prevention – Marine Corps Community Service
3602 Hochmuth Avenue
San Diego, CA 92140
Provides education, outreach services, and counseling. Services are dedicated toward awareness, prevention and providing direct care for those in need. Each client is provided with an assessment, diagnosis if warranted, and a treatment plan.