Former POWs Have More PTSD, Substance Abuse

Even though the United States hasn’t been involved in an according-to-Hoyle declared war since World War II, we’ve put enough military personnel in harm’s way that we had a prisoner of war (POW) as recently as 2014. And nearly 30,000 from dating back to World War I are still alive. To honor them and the memory of more than 100,000 other late POWs, April 9 is Former POW Recognition Day (not to be confused with National POW/MIA Recognition Day, September 18). According to an undated statement on the We Honor Veterans website, 29,350 Americans formerly imprisoned as prisoners of war (POWs) since World War I are still alive. There’s no mention of how many of them have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or a substance use disorder, but it could be a significant number. In one study of American POWs, 67% had PTSD in their lifetime. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 20% of all veterans with PTSD also have a substance use disorder (SUD). A third of vets with SUD—or at least the ones seeking treatment for it—also have PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD include:
  • Unwanted memories or nightmares of and flashbacks to the traumatic event
  • Avoidance of thoughts or places associated with the traumatic event
  • Negative thoughts, feeling hopeless or numb, memory loss
  • Trouble sleeping or concentrating, feeling guilt or shame, drinking abusively, reckless behavior
In general, veterans with PTSD (such as from the Vietnam War) abuse alcohol and drugs to self-medicate for their symptoms. Not only does this risk substance use disorder or addiction, but it may make PTSD symptoms worse. A mental health issue and a simultaneous SUD at the same time is called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Both issues need to be treated at the same time to improve the likelihood of recovery. Veterans should not be afraid to ask for help, and neither should active duty military personnel. Reporting a problem is less risky than trying to conceal it, for the service and for their careers. As many as 25% of current members have PTSD, so the service couldn’t afford to discharge all of them if it wanted to. A study in Military Medicine found that ninety-seven percent who sought help had no career problems, while others sometimes experienced problems if they waited until their commanding officers ordered mental health evaluations. Click on these links if you want to find a VA program for PTSD or SUD. To contact the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line, call 800-273-8255 or text 838255. Sources – The bizarre tale of America’s last known POW – Former POW Recognition Day – 4 Things to Know About POW/MIA Recognition Day – Former POWs – Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in a Community Group of Former Prisoners of War: A Normative Response to Severe Trauma – PTSD and Addiction – Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Related to Prisoners of War – PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans – DG FFSC Officer: It’s ok to ask for help

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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