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The Trauma Centre UK
Alcoholism and PTSD
Perhaps you've returned home from front-line combat and everyone's hailing you as a hero yet inside you feel guilty that you couldn't save your mate or maybe you've been caught up in a traumatic terrorist attack at home, possibly losing some of your loved ones or have been disturbed by memories of the scene following your helping others cope with the aftermath of such incidents.
Whilst everyone around you is commending your bravery and telling you to be strong, inside, the events are circling around and around inside your head. This is when many PTSD sufferers turn to alcohol “to forget” - we understand this. If you have, you certainly won't be the first and almost certainly not the last – you're not alone. We're not here to judge but rather to help you if you think your alcohol consumption has escalated out of hand. In such circumstances, especially if you're still serving in the military, the emergency services or another professional occupation (such as in the medical profession), it can often be especially difficult to admit this to e.g., your GP to ask for help.
GPs and medical staff will usually simply advise you to cut down to within the recommended maximum number of units per week whereas Alcoholics Anonymous aim towards complete abstinence from drinking alcohol – neither of which is usually very helpful for most PTSD sufferers who're relying on the booze as a crutch.
So here are some ideas that may help (feel free to email us if you think they can be improved upon). Please note that these ideas should not be treated as a substitute for formal medical advice but are simply some ideas suggested by your fellow PTSD sufferers surviving with "a few too many tots of rum".
- If you're the sporting-type, physical exercise such as swimming is often good – it's a bit tricky holding a pint or having a cigarette whilst doing back-stroke in the pool! Follow it with a nice sauna and perhaps include a workout at the gym.
- If you have a hobby, thrust all of your energy into it. If you don't have a hobby, find one and do likewise!
- Try to establish a routine pattern to your drinking (but don't beat yourself up if you have trouble sticking to it). A pint or two of beer at lunchtime (not before!) and a couple after 8pm probably won't do you any harm.
- Depending on your family circumstances, it's usually safer (and much cheaper!) to drink at home (or a friend's house) than at a public house – we've heard far too many stories of trouble breaking out when sufferers have just returned from e.g., Helmand, only to find that the locals down the pub are quipping about “Why did we ever become involved in the war anyway?” etc. If you do go to the pub, be disciplined and know when to walk away if someone offends you – it's usually preferable to a night in the cells!
- Try to drink with friends present even though this may be difficult or difficult to arrange.
- Try to steer clear of the “hard-stuff” (anything over 5% alcohol by volume) - stick to softer alcoholic drinks (ideally with mixers if appropriate).
- Look up all the (ideally free) tourist attractions near to where you live and visit them for a day. Don't just pick the ones that serve alcohol! - but do enjoy a couple of pints at a nearby pub over lunch if you feel like it!
- We know that it can be impossible for PTSD sufferers to think straight sometimes, but try to keep a record of how many units of alcohol you're consuming each week. Normally, these days, it's written on the bottle / tin.
- Do try to talk with fellow colleagues / friends or family members who may be facing similar challenges following such a traumatic event.
- Resolve to go to your local cinema to watch the latest blockbuster once a week on the same day at the same time every week.
- To avoid dehydration, drink two pints of water before going to bed.
- The Alcohol Helpline (available for free 24/7 on 0800 917 8282) are a very helpful and utterly confidential source of advice
- Try to set regular meal-times and stick to them. If you can't hold food down, switch to “emergency rations” - i.e., Complan (available from most chemists) which can even be dissolved in your favourite tipple (though it'll alter the taste a bit!) and / or (ideally soluble) multi-vitamin tablets.
- If you're fortunate enough to have someone to confide in with time on their hands, arrange to meet with them for the same day or two each week and see if you can make it through the two days without a drink. Be creative with this. It may be a relative, a friend or a case of e.g., joining Age Concern, carrying out hospital-befriending or volunteering at your local charity shop.
- Make sure you reward yourself on success!
- You can always call / email us for a chat in complete confidence.
© David Bennett 2001 - 2011
Phone: +44 (0) 1792 521063
Fax: +44 (0) 1792 521063
Address: 17 Ruggles Terrace, Morriston, Swansea, SA6 7JB, Wales.
NHS Independent Service Provider No. 8WF28
Counselling and Psychotherapy