Unless you’ve been hiding under the Blarney Stone, you’ve seen the shamrocks — St. Patrick’s Day is upon us. In America, many adults celebrate the holiday with Irish jigs, witty toasts — and a lot of alcohol. But, if you are coping with posttraumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury (TBI) you may want to pass up that pint of green beer.
Many trauma survivors use alcohol to relieve pain and other symptoms, but the relationship between combat stress and substance use is counterproductive and can be dangerous. And drinking alcohol with a TBI can complicate your injury or delay recovery.
Know Your Limits
If you choose to drink, take a proactive approach and start by learning how alcohol affects you.
The National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2) Alcohol Awareness Kit includes a drink planning card that can help you understand your drinking behavior. You can use the card to track drinking patterns and identify red flags or situations to avoid.
If you know certain people, places or things trigger you to drink more than you plan, the T2 Mood Tracker mobile app can help. The app lets you track your emotions, triggers and helpful coping tools. Tracking your moods and triggers will help you stay alert during those times you are vulnerable to alcohol misuse.
Of course, having a plan is always a great idea. The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) Blog offers ideas for how to avoid excess drinking, such as knowing your surroundings (situational awareness for you military folks) and having an accountability partner (wingman, battle buddy, etc.).
Choose Your Own Adventure
Don’t forget, you have options – and lots of them! In most cases, you get to decide how you celebrate.
If you need ideas for fun things to do in your area, try the Positive Activity Jackpot, another useful T2 mobile app. This interactive app shows activities nearby, offers suggestions and connects with your contacts so you can invite friends along to join in the fun.
Worried About Your Drinking? Talk About It
If you know you are at risk for or have a history of substance abuse, have a chat with your health care provider. Meeting with a mental health or primary care provider to talk about concerns is a proactive step. You’ll learn more about substance use risks, situations to avoid, and ideas to improve your overall well-being. As a first step, you can take the alcohol and substance abuse quiz offered at AfterDeployment.
Until you meet with your provider, there are plenty of resources you can access online. The Deployment Health Clinical Center offers tools for primary care providers to use with patients. They even have a standard drink calculator with really useful facts. For example, did you know that a typical margarita has more than one drink’s worth of alcohol? That’s good to know because realizing that one margarita isn’t equal to one single drink (it’s actually equal to 1.7 drinks) will help you track your alcohol intake — and hopefully avoid bad choices later.
The Real Warriors Campaign provides easy-to-understand content and helpful links — including the early signs and symptoms of alcohol misuse. Reading, or even scanning, the information the campaign offers can help you understand your limits. You’ll also learn how excessive drinking can cause (or worsen) anxiety, depression, insomnia and other health concerns.
If you have concerns and want to learn more about substance use disorder (for yourself or for someone you care about) DHCC has a fact-filled brochure you can download and share.
The DCoE Outreach Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to answer questions and provide resources on alcohol misuse, as well as other psychological health and traumatic brain injury issues. Call 866-966-1020, email or live chat.