As news breaks of the death of another British soldier in Afghanistan, it is worth thinking not only of the impact of his death on his family, friends and colleagues but also of the long-term effects of the stress of combat on the troops who make it back home alive.
A recent report, published in The Lancet and summarised in Therapy Today, revealed that today’s troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq have a 22 per cent higher risk of alcohol mis-use than other servicemen and women. The greatest problems were among those serving in combat roles.
Alcohol mis-use is one of many potential effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Whilst the causes of PTSD among our forces are obvious, they are not always so in civilian life where it can be triggered by any event that causes psychological trauma and that can vary from person to person. For some, it might be neglect, abuse, assault or witnessing a violent death such as suicide; for others, simply hearing about a traumatic event can lead to PTSD.
The good news is that several therapies have proved to be highly effective in treating PTSD including psychotherapy, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitising and Reprocessing).
If you know someone who appears to be mis-using alcohol, or other substances, be aware that it could be their way of coping with the emotional chaos of a traumatic event and an expression of PTSD. The first step is to recognise that alcohol mis-use is a symptom – not a cause – and that it can be treated.