What is an alcohol or drug problem?

Do you have a problem with drinking or drug use? How can you tell? Many people drink alcohol responsibly or take drugs for medical purposes. To decide if your drinking or drug use is unhealthy or increases risk, it is important to stop and think about how these activities may be affecting your life.

Consider the following signs:

  • Does drinking alcohol or taking drugs sometimes interfere with your life at home, at work, or at school?
  • Do you sometimes have many drinks in a row, or find it hard to stop drinking or using drugs and wind up taking more than you intended?
  • Have your friends or family said they’re worried about your drinking or drug use?
  • Are your relationships suffering because of your drinking or drug use?
  • Have you gotten into situations while drinking or using drugs where you could have gotten hurt (e.g., driving, swimming, operating machinery, etc.)?
  • Have you wanted to cut down or tried to cut down on your drinking or drug use?
  • Have you found that you must drink or use drugs more than usual to achieve the same effect they once had? Or that the same number of drinks has less effect than it used to?
  • Have you spent a lot of time drinking or using drugs and being sick afterwards?
  • Have you given up or cut back on things that are important and interesting to you in order to drink or use drugs?
  • Is drinking or using drugs affecting your health or making you feel depressed or anxious?
  • Have you ever “blacked out” and not been able to remember what happened while under the influence of alcohol or drugs?
  • When the effects of drugs or alcohol were wearing off, have you felt sick, had trouble sleeping, or sensed things that were not real?

“My wife was sympathetic that I was drinking to cope with some of my deployment-related issues but she could only deal with it for so long. I think I made the decision to get help for her as much as I did for myself.”

Without really thinking about it, you may drink or take drugs as a way to try to cope with bad memories or traumatic experiences from your time in the military or with other difficult feelings.  Maybe your home situation is less than ideal or you’re having a hard time connecting with other people. Do you sometimes use alcohol or drugs to:

  • Feel “normal” and accepted?
  • Handle difficult issues or emotions in your life?
  • Get going in the morning?
  • Feel less worried or sad?
  • Fall asleep or sleep better?
  • Deal with tension?
  • Forget your problems?

Although it may seem like drinking or using drugs helps you to cope in the short run, these activities actually can make your problems worse. Using alcohol or drugs to cope might be hurting your health, interfering with work, and damaging your relationships. Taking action to address your substance use and its symptoms may seem unnecessary or possibly overwhelming at first. But for many people, it is a critical step toward happier and healthier relationships and a more fulfilling life.

What can I do about drinking or drug use?

Quitting or cutting back drinking or taking drugs can be hard. Trying to do this on your own, without any support, can make it even harder. Talking to your family and friends could be a first step. They may be able to provide support and help you find the assistance that’s right for you.

There are many options for Veterans who want to cut down or stop using drugs or drinking alcohol. It doesn’t matter if you want to stop having one drink a day or if you have a life-threatening addiction — there are resources for you. Support and treatment come in many forms. One option is counseling, either one-on-one with a therapist or in a group. Another involves medication to help you reduce your use of alcohol or drugs. A third option is mutual-help groups with others who are working on similar problems. You can work with your doctor or counselor and try different types of treatment to find the one that’s best for you.

“It helped a lot to know that there were Veterans out there who were in the same place as me. Just listening to their stories and advice turned out to be more helpful and motivating than I could’ve ever imagined.”

In addition, taking an anonymous and confidential self-assessment may help you find out if you need to see a professional about your drinking or drug use. You will be asked a series of questions about your experience using drugs and alcohol throughout your life and in the past three months. Although this set of questions is not designed to tell you whether or not you definitely have an alcohol or drug problem, it can indicate whether it’s a good idea to see a professional for further assessment.

Take the next step: Make the connection.

Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard find effective solutions to dealing with alcohol and drug problems by connecting with other Veterans, proven resources, and treatment. If drugs and alcohol abuse are getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:

  • Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage alcohol or drug problems even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist
  • Local support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
  • A spiritual or religious adviser

Explore these resources for Veterans who want to address alcohol or drug problems.

Learn more about other concerns that may occur alongside alcohol or drug problems, such as chronic pain, trouble sleeping , relationship problems, posttraumatic stress, and depression.

VA’s Substance Use Page
Read more about VA’s programs and services for Veterans dealing with substance misuse.
www.mentalhealth.va.gov/res-vatreatmentprograms.asp

NIAAA Rethinking Drinking
Learn more about alcohol and the recommended limits for alcohol use.
www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/Default.aspx

Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help
This guide is written for individuals, and their family and friends, who are looking for options to address alcohol problems. It is intended as a resource to understand what treatment choices are available and what to consider when selecting among them.
pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Treatment/treatment.htm

AfterDeployment
Take an online workshop with interactive exercises to evaluate your own substance use and hear from other Veterans and service members dealing with alcohol abuse or drug problems.
www.afterdeployment.dcoe.mil/topics-alcohol-drugs

Alcoholics Anonymous
For meeting information, contact a local AA resource that provides meeting times and locations. Use this link for a list of meeting resources by state and province in the U.S. and Canada.
www.aa.org/pages/en_US/find-aa-resources

Narcotics Anonymous
This link will allow you to search for an NA meeting located near you.
www.na.org/meetingsearch/

SmokefreeVET/Smoking Cessation
Those seeking support for alcohol and drug abuse may also want to stop smoking. SmokefreeVET is a mobile text messaging service for Veterans who receive their health care through VA. Veterans can sign up for automated text messages from SmokefreeVET by visiting www.smokefree.gov/vet. Additionally, SmokefreeVET has a Facebook page where Veterans who are quitting smoking can post messages of support and encouragement to each other. For more information on VA’s smoking and tobacco cessation programs, visit www.publichealth.va.gov/smoking. To speak with a smoking cessation counselor, call 1-855-QUIT-VET.

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
www.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter.asp

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Alcohol or drug problems may be related to other health conditions that need attention. VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA’s Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.
www.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp?isflash=1

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Have you had trouble lately getting along with people close to you? Or maybe your relationship with your family hasn’t been as good lately as it used to be. Perhaps military life or deployment has strained your relationships or made it challenging to take care of the people who depend on you. Maybe it’s difficult to talk or make decisions with your family without getting into arguments, or you feel disconnected from the important people in your life.

Many of these problems are common to everyone at some point in life. But others are unique to situations that Veterans and their loved ones experience.

What can lead to relationship problems?

Problems like stress, posttraumatic stress, health concerns, depression, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, feeling out of place or disconnected, or difficulties with memory may interfere with strong relationships. Family members and friends may not understand these problems very well, including how they can affect relationships. Veterans who have experienced traumatic events such as combat or sexual assaults often find it especially difficult to talk to their loved ones.

Military training rewards self-reliance, so your first instinct when facing any problem may be to withdraw or isolate from others instead of sharing what you are going through. It can also feel like you are protecting your loved ones by not sharing information. But instead, it can cause you and your family members to feel disconnected or distant.

“Even though I tried hard to care about certain things again, especially the issues my wife and I were having, at the end of the day I was still numb to a lot of it. Many of my problems at home seemed to pale in comparison to the things I had to overcome during my deployment.”

Relationship issues can make it difficult to enjoy life: You may feel as if no one understands you, and as a result, you may lash out or pull away from the people in your life.

Sometimes relationship problems involve emotional or physical abuse. Behaviors that are fear-inducing, controlling, demeaning, intimidating, or physically or emotionally abusive or violent are signs of an abusive relationship. Whether you are on the receiving end of these behaviors or your behavior is what’s harmful or scary to others, it’s essential to find support. Family members, friends, or a professional — such as a doctor or counselor — can help you learn healthier ways of relating that do not bring harm to others.

What are signs that I should reach out for support?

You may want to reach out for help if you are experiencing any of the following over a long period of time, or if others have pointed these out to you:

  • Feeling misunderstood or disconnected from your family and close friends or having them tell you they feel distant or pushed away
  • Having difficulty communicating
  • Feeling distant from your spouse/partner even if you initially felt very close when you first returned from deployment
  • Feeling like a stranger in your own home
  • Feeling emotionally distant or numb or avoiding closeness with others
  • Withdrawing from participation in social activities
  • Feeling lonely
  • Believing that you’re a burden to others
  • Acting or feeling angry or aggressive toward others in your life
  • Withdrawing from making plans or returning people’s calls
  • Not being able to confide in others like you used to
  • Losing patience with family members, including children
  • Drinking alcohol more often or taking drugs
  • Feeling constantly on edge
  • Being angry or irritable
  • Losing interest or pleasure in things you normally enjoy
  • Having difficulty living your usual life or just getting through the day

If I’m experiencing relationship problems, what can I do about it right away?

Many Veterans have overcome relationship problems that arose after time away from family or after traumatic events or stressful situations. Here are some tips they have found to be helpful:

  • Address the issue as soon as you realize it’s happening to prevent it from getting worse.
  • Make a “communication plan” for expressing your thoughts and feelings with those you care about by thinking about what you want to say and how you want to convey it. Writing these thoughts and feelings down can often help.
  • Listen to what others who care about you have to say.
  • Talk with others who may be experiencing similar issues.
  • Exercise regularly to help relieve stress and boost your mood.
  • Practice relaxation exercises such as deep breathing.
  • Make an effort to spend time with people you care about to relax or have fun.
  • Find something social to do, such as a hobby, a Veterans’ group, volunteer work, or becoming involved in a place of worship.
  • Balance alone time and “together” time.

You can take this free, confidential self-assessment to get feedback on your relationship problems. Although this short quiz is not a formal assessment, it can give you a sense of how you’re doing with family or relationship issues and may be helpful in deciding how to take action, including if seeking professional help might be a good idea.

“Just like we all say in the service, ‘It’s all about that person to your left and right.’ Those are the kinds of relationships that kept us strong — and kept us alive — while we were in, and it’s just as important to maintain that strength in our personal relationships now that we’re out.”

Talking to your family and friends about the difficulties in your relationships can be an important first step. While it can be difficult to share your feelings, it’s important to explain what you’re experiencing to them. They may get a better understanding of your circumstances and help you find support. You may also want to use support services to help you to better express yourself with your family and friends.

Take the next step: Make the connection.

Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with useful resources and effective treatments for relationship problems. If relationship trouble is affecting your health and well-being or getting in the way of your happiness, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:

  • Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage relationship problems even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
  • A spiritual or religious adviser

Explore these resources for more information about relationship problems in Veterans.

Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to relationship problems, such as stress and anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, and alcohol or drug problems.

Coaching Into Care
This VA program provides guidance for helping family members encourage their Veterans to get on a better track. Free, confidential assistance is available by calling 1-888-823-7458 or emailing CoachingIntoCare@va.gov.
www.mirecc.va.gov/coaching

National Center for PTSD – Intimate Partner Violence Information
This resource provides information on intimate partner violence and the VA services that are available for Veterans who experienced abuse in their relationships.
www.ptsd.va.gov/public/types/violence/domestic-violence.asp

AfterDeployment
This website has wellness resources for Veterans and Service members, including information and self-help tools for anger and irritability and other issues they commonly experience.
www.afterdeployment.dcoe.mil/topics-anger

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
www.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter.asp

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Relationship problems may be related to other health conditions that need attention. VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA’s Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.
www.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp?isflash=1

Make the Connection

If you are a Veteran, or family member of a Veteran, facing challenges in your everyday life…

You Are Not Alone.

There are millions of Veterans and family members who have reached out for support during tough times. Their lives got better. Yours can too.

There’s a Resource Just for You:

MakeTheConnection.net is an online resource designed to connect Veterans, their family members and friends, and other supporters with information, resources, and solutions to issues affecting their lives.

Use MakeTheConnection.net to …

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Watch and Connect with Veteran Stories.

Over 400 Veterans and family members from across the country have shared their stories of strength and recovery. On MakeTheConnection.net, it takes only seconds to find a story that is just for you.

You lie awake at night and can’t fall or stay asleep. You’re restless and feel tired during the day. Nightmares wake you up, and you’re unable to go back to sleep. Are sleeping problems making it hard for you to get through the day?

Sometimes trouble sleeping is a result of a traumatic experience or stressful event in your military or civilian life. At other times, negative thoughts or worry make it hard to fall asleep or cause you to wake up easily during the night. Trouble falling asleep may be due to anxiety about having nightmares, or from thoughts focused on life challenges. Chronic pain, stomach problems, alcohol or drug use, or other physical ailments also might disturb your sleep. Over time, inadequate sleep can lead to chronic sleep deprivation, which will significantly affect your health, performance, and safety.

“I used to fall asleep so easily during my deployment, even with all the loud noises and 24/7 commotion, but now that I’m back and in a quiet, comfortable bedroom, I just can’t seem to fall asleep at night.”

Good sleep is important for overall good health. While the amount of sleep each person needs varies, seven to nine hours of sleep is ideal for most adults. To feel well-rested, your body also must go through a series of sleep stages. When those sleep stages are interrupted, you may feel especially tired or have trouble concentrating the next day.

Some Veterans don’t realize that their insomnia is affecting their day-to-day functioning or that their sleeping problems are treatable. Symptoms of sleep deprivation and other sleep problems include:

  • Having a hard time falling or staying asleep
  • Having a hard time staying awake during the day
  • Feeling tired even after getting lots of sleep

Allowing your sleeping problems to go unchecked may lead to accidents or make it harder to deal with stress, solve problems, or recover from sickness or injury. Sleep problems can affect your life at home and at work, as well as your relationships. In addition to feeling tired, trouble sleeping can be associated with:

If I’m having trouble sleeping, what can I do about it?

There are several things you can do right away to improve your sleep. Try to remember to:

  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool.
  • Make your bedroom a place just for sleeping — not a place for other activities, such as watching television, reading, working on the computer, or listening to the radio.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Avoid watching TV or using the computer too close to bedtime. These activities rev up your brain, and the light exposure from the screens can throw off your sleep cycle.
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule, where you go to bed and wake up close to the same time every day.
  • Get outside and exercise daily (but not close to bedtime).
  • Avoid taking any medications late in the day that might delay or disrupt your sleep .
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine.
  • Avoid alcohol close to bedtime (and excessive alcohol consumption in general).
  • Avoid large meals and beverages late at night.

Your close friends and family may notice that trouble sleeping is affecting your quality of life. You can turn to them when you are ready to look for solutions to your sleep problems. It can be helpful to share what you’re experiencing, and they may be able to provide support as you look for ways to improve your sleep.

Take the next step: Make the connection.

Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with useful resources and effective treatments for getting better sleep. If trouble sleeping is affecting your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:

  • Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage insomnia even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist..
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
  • A spiritual or religious adviser

Explore these resources for more information about Veterans experiencing sleep problems.

Learn more about addressing specific concerns that may be related to trouble sleeping, such as nightmares, preparing for deployment, stress, depression, and posttraumatic stress.

AfterDeployment
This website has wellness resources for Veterans and Service members, including information and self-help tools for trouble sleeping and other issues they commonly experience.
www.afterdeployment.dcoe.mil/topics-sleep

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
www.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter.asp

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Trouble sleeping may be related to other health conditions that need attention. VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA’s Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.
www.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp?isflash=1

Ways to deal with a large crowd

The panic associated with being trapped is similar to what people with PTSD feel when they are in a large crowd.

When in a large crowd, people with PTSD may feel unsafe, or as though there is no easy way to escape the situation.  In addition, people with PTSD may have concerns that they could be caught off guard at any moment. As a result, when in a large crowd, people with PTSD may feel constantly on edge, fearful, or anxious.

These negative emotions may prevent people from leaving their homes in the first place, increasing isolation and reducing quality of life.

In today’s society, crowds are difficult to avoid — especially if you live in a city, or during certain times of the year, like holidays. Large crowds may be particularly stressful if you have PTSD, as they can trigger the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD.

Given this, it is very important to learn ways of coping with large crowds when you have PTSD. Listed below are some basic coping strategies that may help you get through a stressful situation involving a large crowd.

Practice Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is a very simple way of coping with stress and anxiety. Learning how to engage in deep breathing (also called diaphragmatic breathing) can help reduce anxious arousal and bring about relaxation. This can be a particularly useful coping strategy when you are in a situation that you can not readily get out of (such as being stuck in a large crowd).

Use Mindfulness to Cope

When in a large crowd, a person with PTSD may constantly feel as though he is in danger. These feelings may trigger unpleasant and distressing thoughts focused on all the negative things that could happen. “Buying into” these thoughts will only further increase anxiety and fear.

But learning how to take a step back from your thoughts can reduce their power to influence your emotions and behavior. Practicing mindful awareness of your thoughts is a good and simple way of distancing yourself from these distressing thoughts, allowing you to remain in touch with the present moment.

You can also use mindfulness to become more aware of your outside environment. When people are in threatening situations, their attention tends to become locked on frightening objects in their environment. Once your attention is locked on these objects, it is very difficult to disengage from them. Mindfulness of your environment can help your attention become more flexible, and as result, you may be able to more easily direct your attention to less frightening things, such as open areas, friendly faces, or comforting images.

Utilize Social Support

If you know that large crowds have the potential to cause you fear and anxiety, make sure you bring along some social support — an excellent way of coping with stress of all kinds.

Before you go out, talk with your companions about what kinds of situations have the potential to trigger your PTSD symptoms. In addition, let them know what kinds of symptoms they should look out for in you.

This way they can help you catch anxiety and fear early on, allowing them to take steps to help you cope with that anxiety and fear as soon as it arises.

Stick to a Schedule

Set a schedule for yourself. If you know you are going into a crowded place, commit to only staying in that place for a certain period of time. The longer you have to cope with stress, the harder it becomes, thus increasing the likelihood that your PTSD symptoms may be triggered.

Learn How to Cope with Triggers

It is possible that being in a large crowd may unexpectedly trigger your PTSD symptoms: not all triggers can be prevented, and the ones that tend to impact us the most are those that catch us off guard.

Therefore, it’s very important to learn how to identify and cope with triggers, such as through grounding. This way, you can be better prepared when you are unexpectedly triggered.

Breaking Down Avoidance

Dealing with large crowds is a part of life. They are unavoidable. But it’s important to make sure that fears of large crowds do not contribute to extreme avoidance behavior, such as never leaving your home. Breaking down avoidance behavior is not an easy thing to do, and in fact, it can be a very anxiety-provoking experience. But as you break down your avoidance, your anxiety will also reduce.

If you have a fear of large crowds, try out some of the coping strategies above, but start slow. Start by practicing some of the skills, such as deep breathing or mindfulness, in a place where you feel comfortable. The more practice you have in using these skills, the easier it will be to put them to use during stressful situations. You may even want to first try imagining what it would be like to be in a large crowd.

Then, slowly expose yourself to situations where there may be large crowds. As you experience success in dealing with large crowds, you’ll have more confidence in your ability to manage your fear and anxiety. There are things you can do to cope with PTSD symptoms, limiting the power they have to control your everyday life.

  • Caucasian businesswoman talking on telephone at desk

    Article

    PTSD Hassles at Work–Head ‘Em Off Using These Strategies and Tips

How a Man’s Best Friend Can Help

How a Man’s Best Friend Can Help Those Suffering From PTSD

Claire Withey
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United Kingdom June 15 2017

As a Solicitor in the Military department at Bolt Burdon Kemp, I see too often our clients suffering from the crippling effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For those who are not aware, PTSD is an anxiety disorder that may develop after an individual is exposed to one or more traumatic events. Military personnel are often posted on tour to war-stricken areas where they are involved in or witness traumatic events, the memories of which will often stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Typical symptoms of PTSD include:

  1. Re-living or re-experiencing the traumatic event. The individual often experiences nightmares, intrusive thoughts and flashbacks;
  2. An avoidance of people, places or conversations which may trigger memories of the traumatic event;
  3. Emotional numbing, to include detachment and estrangement from others, and being less interested in previously enjoyed activities;
  4. Symptoms of increased anger, irritability, poor concentration and difficulty sleeping. Individuals will become increasingly anxious and unable to deal with stressful situations as well as they used to.

For some, symptoms can take months or even years to manifest themselves. Once present, these symptoms can sadly leave individuals detached from their former lives and can lead to difficulties in social relationships as well as with occupational functioning and work. This can lead to particular problems for those making the already difficult transition from military to civilian life.

Treatment for PTSD is typically in the form of medication to alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and also trauma focused therapy either via CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing). However, recent studies have shown that animals, in particular dogs, can have great therapeutic benefits for those suffering from PTSD.

The use of therapy animals to treat the disabled, or those who have limited or complete loss of sight or hearing is well known. They can also have great benefits for those diagnosed with autism, in particular children.

However, Animal Assisted Therapy has in more recent years been praised for its treatment of PTSD. The healing process for PTSD is often a prolonged and lonely one, but Animal Assisted Therapy can help towards making that process a little easier.

In the majority of cases, therapy involves pairing PTSD sufferers with dogs, but other animals, including horses and cats, have been shown to produce positive results. But why exactly does this special pairing help with the treatment process? This is why…..

  1. Having an animal is known to help alleviate many of the symptoms associated with PTSD, including stress and anxiety;
  2. Having a pet often helps to promote exercise, which is known to help reduce anxiety levels. It also reduces the type of environment which may lend itself to an individual developing depression, for example as a result of spending prolonged periods of time indoors;
  3. Pets demand care. They require feeding, grooming and exercise. For the traumatised soldier, this shifts the focus away from them and towards their pet and caring for their needs;
  4. Animals are accepting and non-judgmental. They do not notice a handicap or impairment;
  5. Dogs in particular can be trained to interact pro-actively with their owner when they exhibit signs of increased stress or anxiety, and help naturally reduce that feeling in their owner. It is believed to be one of the simplest remedies for an anxiety attack;
  6. They can help re-build all important confidence in their owners, and help traumatised veterans overcome the emotional numbness and withdrawal which often comes with suffering from PTSD;
  7. Teaching dogs discipline and service commands can often help improve an individual’s patience and communication skills.

The statistics support the success of this slightly non-conventional form of treatment. In one study of the benefits of using dogs as a form of therapy, psychologists noted an 82% reduction in symptoms. In some cases, they also help to reduce the individual’s reliance on medication to alleviate their symptoms.

There is also some evidence that bonding with dogs has biological effects, including elevated levels of the hormone Oxytocin. This helps improve trust, an individual’s ability to interpret facial expressions and the over-coming of paranoia, all problems which PTSD sufferers often experience.

There are a number of charities in the UK which are raising awareness and money to support therapy of this kind for PTSD sufferers, including Bravehound and Hounds for Heroes. It is hoped that now that the benefits can be clearly seen, funding in this area will increase in the future and the provision of therapy animals to those suffering from PTSD will become more of a mainstream treatment option. 

Treatment of PTSD

Today, there are good treatments available for PTSD. When you have PTSD, dealing with the past can be hard. Instead of telling others how you feel, you may keep your feelings bottled up. But talking with a therapist can help you get better.

Handout

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one type of counseling. Research shows it is the most effective type of counseling for PTSD. The VA is providing two forms of cognitive behavioral therapy to Veterans with PTSD: Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy. To learn more about these types of therapy, see our fact sheets listed on the Treatment page.

There is a similar kind of therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) that is used for PTSD. Also, medications have been shown to be effective. A type of drug known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which is also used for depression, is effective for PTSD.

Types of cognitive behavioral therapy

What is cognitive therapy?

In cognitive therapy, your therapist helps you understand and change how you think about your trauma and its aftermath. Your goal is to understand how certain thoughts about your trauma cause you stress and make your symptoms worse.

You will learn to identify thoughts about the world and yourself that are making you feel afraid or upset. With the help of your therapist, you will learn to replace these thoughts with more accurate and less distressing thoughts. You will also learn ways to cope with feelings such as anger, guilt, and fear.

After a traumatic event, you might blame yourself for things you couldn’t have changed. For example, a soldier may feel guilty about decisions he or she had to make during war. Cognitive therapy, a type of CBT, helps you understand that the traumatic event you lived through was not your fault.

What is exposure therapy?

In exposure therapy your goal is to have less fear about your memories. It is based on the idea that people learn to fear thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind them of a past traumatic event.

By talking about your trauma repeatedly with a therapist, you’ll learn to get control of your thoughts and feelings about the trauma. You’ll learn that you do not have to be afraid of your memories. This may be hard at first. It might seem strange to think about stressful things on purpose. But over time, you’ll feel less overwhelmed.

With the help of your therapist, you can change how you react to the stressful memories. Talking in a place where you feel secure makes this easier.

You may focus on memories that are less upsetting before talking about worse ones. This is called “desensitization,” and it allows you to deal with bad memories a little bit at a time. Your therapist also may ask you to remember a lot of bad memories at once. This is called “flooding,” and it helps you learn not to feel overwhelmed.

You also may practice different ways to relax when you’re having a stressful memory. Breathing exercises are sometimes used for this.

What is EMDR?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is another type of therapy for PTSD. Like other kinds of counseling, it can help change how you react to memories of your trauma.

While thinking of or talking about your memories, you’ll focus on other stimuli like eye movements, hand taps, and sounds. For example, your therapist will move his or her hand, and you’ll follow this movement with your eyes.

Experts are still learning how EMDR works, and there is disagreement about whether eye movements are a necessary part of the treatment.

Medication

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant medicine. These can help you feel less sad and worried. They appear to be helpful, and for some people they are very effective. SSRIs include citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (such as Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft).

Chemicals in your brain affect the way you feel. For example, when you have depression you may not have enough of a chemical called serotonin. SSRIs raise the level of serotonin in your brain.

There are other medications that have been used with some success. Talk to your doctor about which medications are right for you.

Other types of treatment

Some other kinds of counseling may be helpful in your recovery. However, more evidence is needed to support these types of treatment for PTSD.

Group therapy

Many people want to talk about their trauma with others who have had similar experiences.

In group therapy, you talk with a group of people who also have been through a trauma and who have PTSD. Sharing your story with others may help you feel more comfortable talking about your trauma. This can help you cope with your symptoms, memories, and other parts of your life.

Group therapy helps you build relationships with others who understand what you’ve been through. You learn to deal with emotions such as shame, guilt, anger, rage, and fear. Sharing with the group also can help you build self-confidence and trust. You’ll learn to focus on your present life, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the past.

Brief psychodynamic psychotherapy

In this type of therapy, you learn ways of dealing with emotional conflicts caused by your trauma. This therapy helps you understand how your past affects the way you feel now.

Your therapist can help you:

  • Identify what triggers your stressful memories and other symptoms
  • Find ways to cope with intense feelings about the past
  • Become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, so you can change your reactions to them
  • Raise your self-esteem

Family therapy

PTSD can affect your whole family. Your kids or your partner may not understand why you get angry sometimes, or why you’re under so much stress. They may feel scared, guilty, or even angry about your condition.

Family therapy is a type of counseling that involves your whole family. A therapist helps you and your family to communicate, maintain good relationships, and cope with tough emotions. Your family can learn more about PTSD and how it is treated.

In family therapy, each person can express his or her fears and concerns. It’s important to be honest about your feelings and to listen to others. You can talk about your PTSD symptoms and what triggers them. You also can discuss the important parts of your treatment and recovery. By doing this, your family will be better prepared to help you.

You may consider having individual therapy for your PTSD symptoms and family therapy to help you with your relationships.

How long does treatment last?

CBT treatment for PTSD often lasts for three to six months. Other types of treatment for PTSD can last longer. If you have other mental health problems as well as PTSD, treatment may last for one to two years or longer.

What if someone has PTSD and another disorder? Is the treatment different?

It is very common to have PTSD at that same time as another mental health problem. Depression, alcohol or drug abuse problems, panic disorder, and anxiety disorders often occur along with PTSD. In many cases, the PTSD treatments described above will also help with the other disorders. The best treatment results occur when both PTSD and the other problems are treated together rather than one after the other.

What will we work on in therapy?

When you begin therapy, you and your therapist should decide together what goals you hope to reach in therapy. Not every person with PTSD will have the same treatment goals. For instance, you might focus on:

  • Reducing your PTSD symptoms
  • Learning the best way to live with your symptoms
  • Learning how to cope with other problems associated with PTSD, like feeling less guilt or sadness, improving relationships at work, or communicating with friends and family

Your therapist should help you decide which of these goals seems most important to you, and he or she should discuss with you which goals might take a long time to achieve.

What can I expect from my therapist?

Your therapist should help you decide which of these goals seems most important to you, and he or she should discuss with you which goals might take a long time to achieve.

The two of you should agree at the beginning that this plan makes sense for you. You should also agree on what you will do if it does not seem to be working. If you have any questions about the treatment, your therapist should be able to answer them.

You should feel comfortable with your therapist and feel you are working as a team to tackle your problems. It can be difficult to talk about painful situations in your life, or about traumatic experiences that you’ve had. Feelings that emerge during therapy can be scary and challenging. Talking with your therapist about the process of therapy, and about your hopes and fears in regards to therapy, will help make therapy successful.

If you do not like your therapist or feel that the therapist is not helping you, it might be helpful to talk with another professional. In most cases, you should tell your therapist that you are seeking a second opinion.