Dealing with military-related trauma, whether it’s PTSD, combat trauma, or sexual trauma, may be too much to handle on your own. Often, veterans feel that they have to rely on alcohol to cope with the invisible wounds of war. And among veterans, unhealthy habits, like frequent blackout drinking, can have profoundly negative effects across all facets of life.
Blackout drinking is often confusing and disorienting. And the problems that alcohol abuse causes for veterans can impact their physical health, mental wellbeing, relationships, and even their employment opportunities. But what makes blackout drinking so harmful for veterans in particular? And what should you do about it? Keep reading for advice and guidance on how military personnel can handle problem drinking.
How Blackouts Happen
Blacking out happens when you drink enough that your brain stops creating and storing new memories. Blackout drinking actually causes a type of amnesia called anterograde amnesia. When you’re blackout drunk, your hippocampus—the area of your brain in charge of memories—stops working properly.
Blacking drinking does not cause you to pass out, however. You could be having a blackout and seem completely coherent to others around you. A common experience after having a blackout is hearing stories about your behavior and having absolutely no recollection of it ever occurring.
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It’s also possible to experience lesser forms of blackouts called fragmentary blackouts. This is when you can only remember bits and pieces from the night before. Common names for fragmentary blackouts are “brownouts” or “grayouts.”
While you are still in control of your actions during a blackout, your ability to make decisions can be greatly impaired. After a night of blackout drinking, people often find that they said or did things that they would not normally say or do. And oftentimes, when people run into legal trouble while drinking, they do not remember what they did and have to be informed the next day.
What Causes Blackouts?
Blackout drinking is almost always the result of excessive drinking. Depending on your age, gender, and medical history, “excessive drinking” can mean different things. With that in mind, there are two major causes of blackouts:
- Binge drinking. Blackouts are most often associated with binge drinking. The CDC defines binge drinking as consuming 5 or more drinks in a single occasion for men and 4 or more drinks in a single occasion for women. Binge drinking is a common activity in America, especially for young adults. One in six American adults binge drink, and one in 24 binge drinks at least once per week.
- Prescription medications. You don’t have to drink an excessive amount of alcohol to get blackout drunk. Some medications, especially benzodiazepines, can interact with alcohol and lead to strong side effects. Benzodiazepines can make the effects of alcohol faster and stronger, which can result in you blackout drinking in only a few drinks.
Veterans and Blackout Drinking
As a veteran, your relationship with alcohol may be different from civilians’. It’s not uncommon to return home with trauma, even if you have not been diagnosed with a mental health issue. As a result, drinking can become a way for you to cope with depression, anxiety, and other invisible wounds of war.
Combat exposure is a common source of trauma, and these wounds may not heal on their own. The VA estimates that 11-20% of the veterans deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan may have PTSD. These individuals are at higher risk to engage in unhealthy behaviors like blackout drinking, particularly if they are not receiving mental health support.
Invisible wounds don’t have to be combat-related, though. As many as 55% of women and 38% of men in the military have been targets of sexual harassment. And more than one fifth of women in the VA health care system report experiencing sexual assault. These sources of trauma, known as military sexual trauma, is also a common factor in veteran blackout drinking.
Ultimately, each veteran’s experience is unique, and there is no experience that you have to go through to be considered traumatized. If you find it hard to live with the aftermath of your service, particularly if you are engaging in blackout drinking or other unhealthy behaviors, you may be at higher risk of developing alcohol addiction due to an underlying mental health issue.
Alcoholism and PTSD
Stress and trauma are both causes of alcoholism, making PTSD a serious risk factor for developing alcohol addiction. When you use alcohol to deal with PTSD symptoms, you may feel better in the moment, but those feelings always return—often more severely. Prolonged blackout drinking can also cause serious problems throughout your life, which may worsen your mental health and make you even more reliant on alcohol.
If blackout drinking or binge drinking have become regular occurrences in your life, you may already be addicted to alcohol. This is especially true if you notice your relationships becoming strained or if you start experiencing new problems at work. And quitting drinking is no simple thing, even for veterans who have done incredible things. Thankfully, however, getting sober for good becomes much easier with support from other veterans.
How Heroes’ Mile Can Help
As a veteran, getting help for addiction and mental health issues is tough. Civilian alcohol rehabs may not be able to provide support for your unique experience. But Heroes’ Mile in DeLand, Florida was created by veterans to help fellow veterans recover from alcohol addiction and heal the invisible wounds caused by the realities of military service.
Our alcohol recovery programs are designed around the knowledge that each veteran has his or her own unique experience and challenges. Starting with alcohol detox, we can help you safely quit alcohol without the fear of relapsing. And from there, we can help you with recovery from residential alcohol treatment to ongoing, outpatient support. At Heroes’ Mile, you get a personalized care plan that uses compassionate, research-based therapies administered by veterans.
If you’re a veteran and are ready to get help from your fellow veterans, contact Heroes’ Mile today. Call our supportive admissions specialists at 888-838-6692, or fill out our confidential contact form.