In the Beyondblue Answering the Call report, it was identified that emergency service workers had high rates of alcohol consumption and this was higher in those who were likely to have PTSD. This may be due to the fact that in communities like the emergency services where a culture of mental health stigma exists, individuals often turn to other strategies to help cope with their psychological pain.
“We drink to celebrate, socialise, commiserate or deal with stress. But drinking too much, too often, or for too long can cause problems with your health, work and relationships. If you or someone else is worried about how much you’re drinking, find out what you can do about it.” Open Arms
If your partner is drinking more, or more frequently, it can have a detrimental impact on their mental health and may cause tension, confusion or frustration in your relationship.
SIGNS OF AN ALCOHOL/SUBSTANCE ADDICTION
Lifeline identifies signs and symptoms of addiction as:
- Regular or continued use to cope emotionally, socially or physically
- Neglecting responsibilities and activities that are important or that they enjoy (e.g. work, study, family time, sports, social commitments)
- Participating in dangerous or risky behaviours as a result of alcohol or substance use (e.g. drink driving, going to work with alcohol in system, getting in fights with strangers)
- Relationship problems (e.g. arguments with partner, family or friends)
- Physical tolerance – needing more of the substance to experience the same effects
- Withdrawal – physical and mental withdrawal symptoms when the individual is not using the substance or needs the substance to feel “normal”
- Losing control of their substance use – being dependent or unable to stop even if they want or try to
- Substance takes over their life (e.g. spending a lot of time engaged with alcohol/substance and then recovering from the effects).
WHY THEY MAY BE DRINKING MORE
People drink alcohol in all sorts of situations, but it has been identified that a lot of first responders drink when they are trying to cope with stress, to dull emotional or physical pain, to forget traumatic memories and to make themselves feel better.
In a culture where stigma is present and “mental toughness” is encouraged, your loved one may have tried to address their PTSD or depression symptoms by drinking. Over time this can lead to a dependency on alcohol and can complicate treatment for psychological injury when help is finally sought.
Drinking more or engaging in other substances may be an early sign that your partner is struggling with their mental health and wellbeing.
- If they are already engaged in treatment it might be helpful to ask if alcohol is an area they are covering with their Doctor or psychologist and what tools or exercises they have been given to manage their alcohol intake.
- If your partner is not engaged with help, it may be helpful to have a conversation about their drinking or drug use and encouraging them to talk to their General Practitioner or workplace Employee Assistance Program about it.
ALCOHOL AND SUBSTANCE USE IS A PSYCHOLOGICAL CONDITION
Alcohol and substance use is often not discussed appropriately in the broader community. You may have preconceived ideas about what a potential diagnosis could mean for your loved one as a person. It is helpful to remember that alcohol and substance use disorders are a psychological condition and relatively common among first responders. Alcohol and substance use is not the result of a character flaw or poor willpower.
Your loved one may feel shame for the way they have dealt with their symptoms of a psychological injury and critical judgement is not likely to help the situation.
There is help for alcohol and substance use. A treating specialist will provide your loved one with constructive strategies, activities or exercises to manage their emotional and psychological symptoms.
MORE INFORMATION & RESOURCES
Useful information prepared by organisations that focus on trauma in emergency services or the Defence community may be helpful to you:
Phoenix Australia provide more detail on alcohol and substance use and trauma and its impact on recovery and medication https://www.phoenixaustralia.org/recovery/effects-of-trauma/alcohol-and-substance-use/
The Right Mix was developed for the Defence and Veteran community. It can help your loved one track their drinking habits and understand where to seek help when appropriate.
Supporting a loved one who may have an alcohol addiction can be challenging. It’s important to strike the right balance of support. A range of resources are provided through the Family Drug Helpline, including “Ten ways family members can help”