For longer than a decade, the armed forces of our country have been serving overseas to protect American interests abroad. While the physical tolls of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been reported on frequently, the mental tolls that accompany our troops home from the battlefield often go underreported and untreated.

One such unseen mental toll that goes underreported is post traumatic stress syndrome, also known as PTSD. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that manifests itself in people who experience an intense, psychologically traumatic event. One of the largest groups of people that tend to be afflicted with PTSD are military veterans. Following tours of duty in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, our soldiers return stateside with unseen mental wounds. Symptoms of PTSD include, but aren’t limited to nightmares, sleeplessness, loss of interest, irritability, and anger. Furthermore, the more traumatic the event, the more likely that the symptoms of PTSD will be more severe.

In order to cope with the debilitating symptoms of PTSD, many returning veterans have turned to alcohol in an attempt to “self-medicate” their problems. Alcohol is seen as an “escape” from the mental torment that the person may currently be going through. Alcohol helps to ease the severity and frequency with which the anxiety-inducing nightmares and panic attacks. However, reliance on alcohol as a “self-medication” technique may, in fact, operate as a double-edged sword. Firstly, the reliance on alcohol to alleviate stressful, intense flashbacks and panic attacks can actually make them come back stronger than before. On the other hand, using alcohol as a self-medication technique can cause physical danger to not only you but those around you as well.

One such example of the potential for physical injury to you and those around you is drunk driving. Relying on alcohol as a self-medication technique can affect your everyday activities, such as driving a car. Cases have been seen across the United States where an intoxicated person, suffering from PTSD, was involved in an alcohol-related motor vehicle accident. One such incident occurred in Florida in 2010. A Marine named Scott Sciple, who had suffered numerous injuries during deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, and was also suffering from PTSD in relation to these deployments, drove drunk down the wrong way of an Interstate in Florida. In doing so, Mr. Sciple was involved in an accident that ended up taking the life of one of the passengers of the car he collided with. When his Blood Alcohol Content was tested, it was recorded as being three (3) times the legal limit. Yet, it turned out that the reason why he was drinking in the first place was due to the crippling mental injuries he suffered while serving tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Marine Corps investigator Col. John P. Cook, after having a chance to review and examine Captain Sciple, wrote “This investigation reveals a disturbing vulnerability in the support we provide our combat veterans suffering the invisible wounds of PTSD. It is a folly to expect a wounded mind to diagnose itself, yet our marines still depend on an anemic system of self-diagnosis and self-reporting.” Furthermore, the report documented the instances that led to the development of Captain Sciple’s PTSD. Col. Cook noted that Captain Sciple had been wounded in attacks on patrol, was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade that made him lose consciousness, and lead rescuers to believe he was dead. Furthermore, Mr. Sciple was forced to endure having to bury Iraqi civilians after seeing them die, only to have to exhume them to be identified by relatives. Following the submission of the 860-page report and lengthy discussions between the prosecution and the defense counsel, Captain Sciple was sentenced to a year in jail with time served as credit, 12 years probation, and 2 years house arrest. Furthermore, upon his release, he was transported up to a treatment facility in Virginia to be looked after.

Although cases such as the one just described highlighting the consequences of using alcohol as self medication for PTSD, it also highlights the need for effective treatment and identification rather than simply increasing the severity of the punishment for DWI. A simple increase in the severity of the punishment for DWI offenses does not help to attack the underlying issues and motivations for someone to drive while intoxicated, especially a veteran. In the case of veterans, in order to better combat such an issue, it would be far more effective to treat the underlying PTSD and alcohol dependence rather than increasing the severity of the punishment. Treating the PTSD and use of alcohol as self-medication would help resolve exactly why the person is deciding to drive drunk and would be far more effective at preventing a person from doing it again in the future, which is the goal of preventing recidivism.

If you have been charged with a DWI in New York, contact us today for a free case evaluation.

The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem. Corporate offices for Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are located at 432 N. Franklin Street, Suite 80, Syracuse, NY 13204; Telephone No.: 1-866-792-7800. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Attorney Advertising.