Friday, May 10, 2024

Substance Abuse: A Common Co-Occurring Disorder in Caregiving Professions

I’ve said it before in previous blogs, as well as in each of the books in the PTSD Recovery series, but it’s worth repeating.

Drug and alcohol abuse make sense in the context of PTSD. Criterion C of PTSD is avoidance, and drinking and drugging help us avoid our feelings. Criterion D is all about changes in the way we think and feel, and alcohol and drugs can play a major role in this.

Self-medicating is a term used to describe individuals who turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with overwhelming emotions and feelings that they are not ready or able to confront.

This can take various forms, such as excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, or painkillers.

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC, people in high-stress jobs, like first responders and healthcare workers, are more prone to self-medication. The constant pressure and exposure to traumatic events can lead to cumulative trauma and mental health issues like acute stress disorder, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, many individuals in these professions also develop co-occurring substance use disorders (SUDs) to relieve their symptoms.

While dealing with job stress is a contributing factor in substance use disorders (SUDs), those in caregiving professions may also turn to alcohol for other reasons. Sometimes, a cold beer (or a few) at the end of a tough day eases the tension. Social drinking is good for bonding with your peers. You’ve been through hell with your brothers and sisters, and it would be a shame to miss some quality relaxation time with your team once the shift ends. A work culture where social drinking and bonding with peers is normal, but it's also an easy place for problems related to substance abuse to go unnoticed. For others, maybe they need to take the edge off of their physical pain from injury or muscle strain and they grab their bottle of painkillers. No one likes to be in pain, whether mental or physical, so numbing it is one answer. And an easy habit to fall into.

But what starts as a social norm or coping mechanism can quickly spiral into addiction. Many people don't even realize they have an SUD until they try to cut down or face negative consequences from their self-medicating.

However, the good news is that SUDs are treatable.

Seeking professional help is a necessary step towards healing. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health and addiction issues. Many view it as a weakness or something to be ashamed of.

It's time to break this stigma. As caregivers, our own mental and physical well-being should be just as important as the mental and physical health of those we care for.

When the demands of the job take a toll on our health, seeking help is not only necessary, it's the bravest thing you can do.


If you believe change is possible, you want to change, and you are willing to do the work, you absolutely CAN get your life back.”

Get your copy of The Soldier's Guide to PTSDThe Soldier's Workbook

or Acknowledge & Heal, A Women's-Focused Guide to PTSD

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