People who use illicit substances and turn to drug abuse have their reasons to do so. However, the primary reason to turn to substance abuse is often just for fun, or to curb the symptoms and ill-effects of an underlying mental health condition. The former is often witnessed in young adults and teenagers who start using alcohol and/or drugs for fun and then slowly develop a dependence on the substance(s). The latter, however, is usually seen in adults who try to normalize their mental state by using drugs that provide a temporary escape from the realities of their life.
In this group of adults, a large percentage of veterans have been observed to have a substance abuse disorder. Military life is full of challenges and tough situations that both the soldier and the family has to deal with. After deployment, the family has to find a new way to live their life without the presence of their loved ones around. Similarly, the military member has to deal with the intricacies of on-ground situations. When a military member returns home after completing their tenure, it is often the cause of celebration, however, many military members are known to struggle with the trauma of the on-field complexities they have experienced.
Why Veterans Turn To Substance Abuse?
Veterans who have experienced combat during their tenure lost a friend, a slip that cost someone’s life, etc., are possible scenarios that haunt them even after leaving the military. This directly impacts their mental health and introduces them to more severe disorders such as depression, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and other mental health issues.
This stems from a bad mental state where the veterans choose to abuse drugs and use alcohol to self-medicate. They also turn to substance abuse to feel calm and relaxed. Mental health issues with veterans are pretty common and are the primary reason why most of them are suffering from addiction.
Veterans and Alcoholism
Using illegal drugs in the military is strictly prohibited and may result in a dishonorable discharge. To prevent this, military members often do not take part in consuming any illicit substance. However, drinking is an ingrained part of the culture that often carryforwards to their lives even after the service. Also, many veterans use alcohol as a way to self-medicate which slowly transforms into an addiction.
Around 20 percent of ex-military members reported binge drinking at least once a week. The stats are even higher for those with combat exposure.
Veterans and PTSD
A majority of veterans are suffering from co-occurring disorders where they deal with addiction and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This mental condition is also known as battle fatigue and is often caused after witnessing a gruesome warfare situation or any other tragic event.
While in men, a majority of PTSD cases are caused by combat, around 23 percent of women suffering from PTSD have an associated sexual abuse incident in the past. They have reported sexual abuse during their time in the military. PTSD can cause memory problems, flashbacks, hopelessness, low self-esteem, insomnia, aggressive traits, self-destructive behavior, relationship issues, anxiety, etc.
These symptoms can surface by anything that reminds the veteran about the traumatic incident. Due to these disturbing traits, veterans often turn to substance abuse to seek temporary solace and a calm state of mind. They can use drugs, alcohol, or any other substance to curb these symptoms and feel good. Also, for veterans with PTSD and addiction disorder, it is difficult to overcome the latter.
Veterans and Prescription Drugs Addiction
Medications prescribed to the veterans to dissolve the symptoms of PTSD are highly addictive. To reduce the risk of drug misuse, doctors have started prescribing non-addictive medications such as Zoloft and Paxil. However, veterans who aren’t suffering from PTSD are also likely to become addicted to drugs such as painkillers and antidepressants.
Those who have suffered an injury during a battle, they can develop an addiction for the painkillers given to them. The following are the most addictive prescription medicines that are given to veterans.
- Sedatives such as Ambien, Lunesta, etc.
- Painkillers such as Vicodin, Lortab, OxyContin.
- Benzodiazepines like Valium, Xanax, Ativan, etc.
Using higher than what’s prescribed can develop a tolerance, which means that the patient has to intake more amounts to get the same effect. Also, leaving the drug intake even for a day can result in serious withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, headache, and other physical issues. This clubbed with long-term usage can result in addiction.
Why Veterans Are At High Risk Of Substance Abuse?
There are several factors for this phenomenon. Some of them are listed below:
A history of sexual assault during their service period in the military can cause these people to experience severe medical trauma for the rest of their lives. They are more likely to develop mental health issues such as PTSD, clinical depression, sleeping problems, etc.
Many veterans who suffer from co-occurring disorders often avoid treatment despite various resources available to them. Also, a lot of them are reluctant to seek treatment because of the stigma around addiction and the fear of being perceived weak.
Multiple deployments, close exposure to combat, witnessing the death of a closed friend in war, etc., are situations that a veteran can retain even after their tenure at the military ends. These can bring in several issues such as nightmarish thoughts, flashbacks, anxiety attacks, insomnia, etc.
Civilian life after the military is not all good for some veterans. The homelessness rate among the veterans is alarmingly high, with over 10 percent of the homeless population being veterans. Also, around 75 percent of homeless veterans suffer from an underlying mental health condition and substance abuse disorder.
Treatment for Veterans
The resources available for addiction treatment are indeed more for veterans as compared to normal civilians. They have the facility to seek inpatient, outpatient, as well as other treatment programs available to them. Besides, they can also benefit from the various options made available to them by the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is useful to veterans who can’t afford treatment on their own.
The Department of Veteran Affairs provides family counseling, one-on-one counseling, PTSD treatment, group therapy, medications, inpatient and outpatient rehab, and other facilities. However, many veterans try to avoid these options as it takes longer to seek treatment through the Department of Veteran Affairs.
And rightly so, mental health disorders such as PTSD and substance abuse should be dealt with immediately. If you know a veteran who’s seeking for help, find the options to provide them with the best available resources. The quicker, the better.
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