PTSD and Substance Abuse Can Lead to Early Death
Researchers at Boston University have completed a study looking at the interplay between PTSD and substance abuse. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and external psychological markers like substance abuse predict early death in veterans. The study authors, who focused on veterans with PTSD, found a high risk of premature death beginning at the cellular level.
“Our study found that PTSD and comorbid conditions like substance misuse are associated with a cellular marker of early death found in DNA methylation patterns and referred to as ‘GrimAge.’” These are the words of the corresponding author Erika Wolf, Ph.D. Dr. Wolf is the study’s senior author, a clinical research psychologist for the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System, and a professor of psychiatry at BUSM.
GrimAge is an algorithm that predicts the time of death. They then correlated GrimAge with a range of psychiatric diagnoses, biological markers, cognitive tests, and metrics of brain morphology. The results suggested that veterans with PTSD who also have substance abuse issues or antisocial personality disorder are at risk of possible changes at the cellular level regarding:
– Oxidative stress
They are also at risk of neural changes such as cortical thinning and cognitive decline. “Collectively, our findings suggest that several psychiatric disorders may increase the risk for early death and underscore the importance of identification of those at greatest risk,” said Wolf.
PTSD and VA Disability Claims
It may be surprising to learn that stress-related conditions are not solely in the patient’s mind. These conditions change the body at the cellular level. Extreme stress, like combat stress, alters brain chemistry.
Everyday responses to stressful situations, even something like paying the light bill on time, usually depend on a delicate balance between the amygdala, which controls the brain’s emotional responses, and the cerebral cortex, which controls logical responses. Extreme stress enlarges the amygdala and shrinks the cerebral cortex.
When these two areas of the brain are out of balance, functioning in everyday life becomes difficult. To what extent the functioning is impacted determines the disability rating the veteran receives.
Other PTSD symptoms include:
The VA disability rating system often doesn’t fully account for these symptoms. For example, if a veteran has problems sleeping due to PTSD, a VA doctor might not consider that symptom disabling. However, the veteran’s daily fatigue may make it difficult or impossible for him to function sufficiently at work. So, from that indirect perspective, his PTSD is disabling.
A VA disability lawyer advocates for these veterans, so they get the benefits they deserve.
Very few effective and tolerable PTSD drugs are available. Only three or four PTSD medications are on the market, and they don’t work for everyone. Experimental treatments are available as well. But they have such strong side effects that, in many cases, the cure is worse than the disease.
With few treatment options, many veterans with PTSD are at risk of self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, or other substances. These “treatments” may help in the short term. Over the long term, however, they do much more harm than good. Substance abuse, and even personality disorders, can be considered “comorbid” with PTSD, meaning they co-occur and can impact or feed off each other.
The VA suggests comorbid PTSD and substance abuse can cause the following problems:
– Using substances to fall asleep worsens the quality of sleep, making veterans feel tired constantly
– Substances enhance negative feelings associated with PTSD, such as numbness, anger, irritability, or depression
– Substances allow the veteran to continue to avoid the problems causing their PTSD, prolonging the illness
– Also, substances make it harder to concentrate and be productive
Service Connection And PTSD
If a veteran’s PTSD is service-connected, they can apply for benefits for related substance use or personality disorders as conditions service-connected on a secondary basis. This application for benefits allows them to treat the root of the problem — PTSD — as well as the comorbid conditions, all on the VA’s dime.
Because PTSD symptoms and their impact on everyday life are hard to detect, VA doctors don’t always diagnose veterans correctly the first time. VA disability attorneys often partner with independent medical experts to spend more time with the veteran and, as a result, get a second, better-informed opinion.
The VA offers several treatment options to veterans with service-connected PTSD, including medication, counseling, and relapse prevention for substance use. Veterans can also check out 12-step programs to help with alcohol or drug problems, which are free.
Connect With Hard-Working Attorneys
An attorney is a valuable partner in all phases of a disability claim. For a free consultation with an experienced veterans disability lawyer, contact Cameron Firm, PC, at 800-861-7262 or fill out the contact box on our website. We are here to represent veterans nationwide.
This article is for educational and marketing purposes only. Therefore, it does not create an attorney-client relationship.