Distressed Veteran With AlcoholPost-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increases a Veteran's risk of developing other serious health conditions, including alcoholism. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, male Veterans are 2.0 times more likely to struggle with alcoholism if they have PTSD. Female Veterans with PTSD are 2.5 times more likely to have a problem with alcohol abuse.

How Alcoholism Affects PTSD Symptoms

Alcoholism, like other substance use disorders, is a biologically based illness with complex environmental triggers. While there is evidence to suggest that some people have a genetic propensity to develop a problem with alcohol abuse, the condition is often triggered by stress and trauma.

Since not all people who drink heavily are struggling with addiction, alcoholism can be hard to diagnose. However, some common signs that indicate treatment may be needed include:

  • Drinking more often or longer than intended
  • Being unable to reduce or otherwise regulate alcohol consumption
  • Ignoring responsibilities due to the amount of time you spend drinking or hungover
  • Having cravings for alcohol
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences in your relationships or professional life
  • Engaging in high-risk behaviors such as driving under the influence or fighting with others while drunk
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea and sweating​, when you are unable to drink
  • Believing it's impossible to feel normal unless you've been drinking

People with PTSD often use alcohol as a way to temporarily escape from the intrusive thoughts and feelings associated with their condition. However, alcohol abuse can actually increase PTSD symptoms over time. Drinking lowers the body's production of serotonin and norepinephrine. Serotonin affects your mood, appetite, sleep, and memory, while norepinephrine controls how the body reacts to stressful situations and events. Low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine will make everyday challenges seem worse than they are—creating a cycle that reinforces mental health struggles.

People with PTSD who have been diagnosed with alcoholism report increased:

  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of numbness or having no emotions
  • Trouble sleeping or poor quality sleep

Alcohol abuse can also weaken a Veteran's sources of social support by making it difficult to maintain close relationships with family and friends. This increases feelings of isolation and disconnection that can worsen PTSD symptoms and make it harder to manage cravings for alcohol. 

Effective PTSD Treatment Needs to Address Alcohol Abuse

When a Veteran with PTSD is also struggling with alcoholism, both conditions need to be addressed simultaneously for treatment to be effective. If only the drinking is addressed, the Veteran will continue to crave alcohol due to the severity of the PTSD symptoms. If only the PTSD is addressed, the alcohol abuse will make the symptoms of PTSD more difficult to treat.

Once detox has been completed and a sober baseline has been established, a Veteran must learn to cope with PTSD symptoms without drinking. This typically involves a number of lifestyle modifications, as well as the use of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques and antidepressant medications.

The VA offers a number of treatment options to address both alcoholism and PTSD, including short-term outpatient counseling, intensive outpatient treatment, and residential (live-in) care. All VA Medical Centers provide PTSD treatment, and some locations have specialized PTSD programs.

Receiving VA Disability Benefits for PTSD and Alcoholism

It is a common misconception that a veteran can't receive disability benefits for conditions connected to substance abuse. The VA will not allow a direct service connection for substance abuse, but you can receive a secondary service connection if you can show that your addiction developed as the result of a service-connected disability such as PTSD. While you won't receive separate compensation for substance abuse if you are already receiving compensation for PTSD (or another mental health condition), you can receive compensation for conditions that often stem from alcoholism, such as liver disease. 

Statements from family and friends who knew you before and after your military service play a vital role in this type of disability claim. Showing that you either did not drink or only drank a minimal amount of alcohol before your service supports the claim that your addiction is related to your PTSD stressor.

The office of Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law, has helped a number of Veterans with PTSD receive compensation for conditions that are caused by their alcoholism. For example, we helped Navy Veteran Clarence get Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) benefits approved after he was unable to continue working as a pastor due to his service-connected psychiatric disorder, PTSD, major depression, and alcohol abuse.

If you're having trouble accessing your VA disability benefits, our Veteran's benefits attorneys can help. Call today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.