Chemical dependency and the returning vet: Part 3 of fall series |

Chemical dependency and the returning vet: Part 3 of fall series

Welcome Home Vets, a local nonprofit that provides free psychotherapy for veterans and their families living with military-related psychological trauma, will continue its fall quarter Veterans Family Wellness Program at 6 p.m. today with “Alcohol, Drugs and Codependency,” an interactive discussion that will explore the disease of chemical dependency and its effects on the individual’s central nervous system, personality and physiology. The class will also explore the psychology of denial as a defense, the progression of chemical dependency as a disease, the impact of living with a chemically dependent person, the different roles family members of a chemically dependent person can assume, and the destructive nature of chemical dependency in which each family member pays a price to survive.

The class is the third in a four-part series aimed at increasing awareness of the challenges facing military veterans and their families when they return to civilian life. Classes in the fall quarter run through Nov. 4. Classes need not be taken in any order, and the public may join the series at any time.

“Alcohol, Drugs and Codependency” will explore chemical dependency as a primary, progressive, chronic, incurable — but treatable — disease characterized by an inability to control one’s use of alcohol and other drugs and how veterans with military-related psychological trauma — and their families — are vulnerable to the disease.

PTSD, Depression and Addiction

“It is in keeping with military culture and the ‘warrior spirit’ that many veterans with post traumatic stress disorder, major depression or anxiety will self-medicate with alcohol,” said Gary Brown, Welcome Home Vets Executive Director and a retired psychiatric nurse who served in the United States Air Force. “For some, this can lead to alcohol abuse and dependency. Many vets with military-related psychological trauma also turn to drugs as a way to numb their pain or to try and gain some measure of control in their lives.”

“A vet may or may not have a substance abuse problem before entering the military, but exposure to one or more traumatic events and subsequent development of PTSD will dramatically increase the risk of abusing alcohol or drugs,” added Brown.

Chronic substance abuse in veterans with PTSD can result in a complicated “dual diagnosis” in which a serious psychiatric disorder co-exists with an addictive disorder. Recovery requires intensive support from mental health professionals, family members and peers in which treatment of the PTSD is integrated with treatment for drug or alcohol addiction.

“The good news is that an integrated treatment of PTSD and substance abuse can work,” said Brown.

Codependent Relationships and Family Roles

The dynamics of addiction on the family are complex and destructive; when combined with the dynamics of military-related psychological trauma, the impact on the family can be devastating.

“One of the reactions of living with an alcoholic or addict is codependency,” said Brown. “As the spouse or partner of an alcoholic or addict, you become unable to see how your own defenses keep you locked into a life of hostility, self-pity and loneliness. You continue to pick up the pieces while growing more protective, controlling and blaming. You continue to hide reality from the addict — and from yourself.”

“Alcohol, Drugs and Codependency” will explore the impact of this dynamic and the dysfunctional, codependent family roles and relationships associated with addiction and alcoholism: i.e., the addict, the chief enabler, the family hero, the scapegoat, the lost child and the mascot. The final class in the series, “Medications and PTSD” (Nov. 4), will examine medications used to treat PTSD.

Welcome Home Vets is an all-volunteer 501(c)3 nonprofit organization established in 2009 to provide free psychological services, education, referrals and advocacy for military veterans, active duty military and their families living with PTSD and other military-related psychological conditions. The organization also provides community education about the effects of military-related psychological trauma on the individual, family and community. For a schedule of upcoming classes, see the “Community Education” page at

For information, contact Pat Carroll at 530-272-3300 or via email to

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