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Self-Medicating PTSD With Beer

Ms. Vicki

 Dear Ms. Vicki,

I believe my husband has undiagnosed PTSD. He functions normally through the day. He does not have depression, or anger issues, but he has nightmares. He can't handle the dreams. 

Instead of seeking help for these PTSD dreams, he self-medicates with beer. He is fully cognizant of his actions. He says he drinks beer just so the dreams stop. 

I don't believe he's an alcoholic, he just doesn't want to dream. He doesn't want to lay awake at night remembering everything he wants to forget. 

He knows he shouldn't drink beer. He knows that this isn't good for him or our kids. But still, he refuses to see mental health for several reasons. 

1) He doesn't want it on his military record that he has PTSD or has visited mental health. He believes this will be a bad mark on his record and will hurt his military career.  

2) Even if he did see mental health, he knows that all they'd do is put him on Ambien to help him sleep. The system is overloaded as it is. The military just pushes pills at problems and hope they go away without offering a real solution. 

3) He absolutely refuses to take Ambien. I don't blame him. I've seen soldiers who have to take Ambien. From about 8pm on, they're like zombies. Neither one of us wants him to turn into an Ambien zombie.

I want my husband to see mental health. I don't want him to be dependent on alcohol to sleep. I don't want our kids to grow up seeing Daddy drinking six or seven beers every night. 

But how do I convince him to get help so he can stop drinking? He is fully aware and admits that he's a functioning alcoholic who self-medicates because he believes it is the better option? 

I love my husband, and I intend to stay by his side no matter what. But for his sake, and the sake of our kids, he needs to quit drinking. I just don't know how to convince him to see mental health. Please help. 

Sincerely, 

His Wife

Dear Wife, 

I totally understand what you are experiencing with your husband. Truthfully, there may be many things that are going on with him right now. 

He could have PTSD and is using alcohol to help him cope. Many people who are experiencing different symptoms will use alcohol or another substance to help them cope. However, these substances will make the problem worse. 

He could also have an alcohol dependency problem and need the alcohol to help him sleep because he has become so dependent on the alcohol. 

Having nightmares is not the only symptom necessary to meet criteria for diagnosis of PTSD. Your husband could also be experiencing combat related reactions which cause sleeplessness, irritability, impaired judgment and impulsivity. 

Many servicemembers are hesitant about seeking behavioral health treatment. Yet servicemembers of all ranks and grades are coming forward to seek assistance with combat stress and post-traumatic stress.

Since I am a counselor and not a medical doctor, I can’t fully respond to your concerns about Ambien, but this is what I know: Ambien is powerful medication that has to be taken as directed. 

You cannot take this medication and drink alcohol too. It can produce many undesired side effects like nightmares. 

It is also important for servicemembers to report different side effects from medication to their doctor because one medication may be great for one person but not the best for someone else. 

I think you and I will agree that we can’t make your husband seek treatment. However, he should know that his symptoms will get worse and there will eventually an incident will happen that will negatively impact his career. 

In my professional opinion, I think it’s important for you to seek help from a therapist as well. The therapist will be able to provide support, insight and education about PTSD and combat stress related reactions. The more you know, the more you will be able to take care of yourself and your family. 

You should check for the availability of services on your military installation or contact Military OneSource and they will connect you to a therapist in your local community. The services are free and you can call to speak to a professional counselor 24/7. 

Please keep in touch with me and let me know how you are doing. I will be thinking about you and your family.

Sincerely,

Ms. Vicki

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Contributor

Ms. Vicki is a native of Dallas, has been the Dear Abby for the military community since her column began in 2005. A licensed therapist and licensed clinical social worker, Ms. Vicki holds a Master of Science in social work and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology.

Ms. Vicki appears regularly on Military.com and in the Fort Campbell Courier. Her column has also appeared in the Washington (D.C.) Times and in the Heidelberg (Germany) Post Herald. She has been featured on CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC.

Looking for advice about your military life? Email Ms. Vicki here. Find Ms. Vicki on Facebook here.  Find Ms. Vicki on Twitter here.

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