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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

July 1, 1993

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

By M.L. Simon

The question has come up: Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) real and, if it is, what should our attitude toward it be?

We know PTSD is real because we have been dealing with it as a named condition since WWI. In that earlier war it was called “shell shock.” The term PTSD did not come into common use until after the Vietnam War. Once

we had the more general term, we began to see the condition in other places than the military. Police officers are probably the most culturally acceptable identifiable group, but we know that victims of sexual abuse and

severe corporal punishment are also prone to this reaction to their trauma. Hospital emergency room workers and ambulance EMTs are also prime candidates.

Before going into what should be done, let me discuss how people react to psychological pain. There is a whole spectrum of reactions, of course, but, for convenience, let me divide them into two groups: Those who quickly forget the pain, and those who don’t.

For the quick forgetters, after an initial shock, the traumatic memories are quickly forgotten, and the painful memories are not easily triggered. The memories become just that—memories. For those who don’t forget the pain

easily, the memories are easily triggered and are relived continuously and painfully every minute of the day. The rate at which these painful memories decay is not a matter of will power but of the chemical makeup of the body. Every one is different. Telling the slow forgetters to get over

it doesn’t work—their body chemistries are different.

So the question then becomes, what are the moral obligations of those in pain? I think that we must not let those in pain use that as reason for violating the important social norms such as no fraud, and no initiation of violence. To do so, no matter how sympathetic the perpetrator, leads to the breakdown of the social order.

What, then, is to be done? We have an answer. We have had an answer for thousands of years. Drugs and alcohol. For those with PTSD problems and the funds to support it, we need a range of medical services that recognize

their pain and treat it with some type of drug and psychological regime while the painful memories slowly decay. For those on a more limited budget, we currently let them self-medicate with alcohol. Alcohol is, by the way, one of the most harmful narcotics available. It destroys the body. Much less harmful to the body are marijuana and heroin. So far as we can tell, these drugs have no serious long-term effects on the body, and once the pain has been sufficiently reduced, use can be decreased or eliminated altogether with much less effort than quitting tobacco.

It is easy to estimate how long such regimes of drug use might take from looking at heroin use among addicts. With or without therapy, about 5 percent of all heroin users quit every year. By age 40, most heroin addicts have quit

heroin. So we can estimate that for those whose bodies forget pain slowly, it can take from 10 to 30 years for the need for drugs to subside. Of course, for some, the need declines much faster and, for a few others, the need is life-long.

To keep those in pain from PTSD (and we are about to have a new crop from the war in Iraq) from being a problem to themselves and others, we must see that they get the help they need in one way or another. The best thing we can do to minimize the social pathologies from this problem is to make heroin legal by a doctor’s prescription to those who can benefit from it and to make marijuana available in liquor stores. This would do two important things. First, it would help people suffering from chronic pain, and, second, it would keep the criminals of the world from preying on them. The main point to keep in mind is this: chronic pain causes chronic drug use. If chronic pain is not a crime, neither should chronic drug use be a crime, because the two go together.

M. L. Simon is an industrial controls engineer for Space-Time Productions and a Free Market Green (c) M. Simon – All rights reserved. Permission granted for one time use in a single periodical publication. Permission also granted for concurrent publication on the periodical’s Web site.

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