Drug addiction is something that can happen to almost everyone. In fact, according to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there were 19.7 million Americans aged 12 and older faced substance use disorder. In addition, 8.5 million suffered from a mental health issue along with their substance use disorder. Among the most vulnerable are soldiers, both in active duty and particularly veterans.
After their tours of duty, soldiers often have a difficult time readjusting to civilian life. Two of the things that make the transition challenging are psychological trauma and physical injuries. It’s a sad reality but not altogether surprising that many veterans across the United States turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to cope.
Contributing Factors to Veterans’ Cases of Drug Abuse
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, members of the military have a higher rate of alcohol use and prescription drug abuse than civilians. The rate is even higher for those who have had high combat exposure.
Cases of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD are also high in military men. Those who served in the Army or Marine Corps, who have experienced severe combat conditions, are particularly more prone. PTSD is one of the most well-known contributing factors for alcohol and drug abuse among veterans. Others include mental health issues, health conditions, and even socio-economic problems such as, but not limited to:
- Chronic pain
- Combat Stress
- Lack of sleep
- Relationship problems
The problem is that not all veterans who need help and rehabilitation get them. This is often due to an inability to actually seek help or an unwillingness to do so. As a result, suicide rates among veterans are also far higher compared to other demographics. As a matter of fact, in 2014, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that almost 20 veterans committed suicide daily.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is also called combat fatigue or shell shock. This is experienced not just by those who have experienced combat, but also those who have suffered physical or sexual assault, disasters, and other traumatic events. However, because soldiers are often exposed to many harsh environments and situations, they are more prone to suffer from PTSD.
Some of the warning signs of PTSD include the following:
- Anger or irritation that flares up quickly
- Flashbacks of the traumatic event, especially when triggered
- Emotional numbness, particularly to things that were previously sources of happiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling jumpy
Alcohol or drug addiction and PTSD are often co-occurring disorders. In addition, studies have shown that service members and veterans who drink heavily are more likely to develop PTSD and other similar conditions.
The Conflict Between Getting Treated for PTSD and Addiction
In cases when veterans with PTSD and other mental disorders do get some help, the drugs they are prescribed are addictive. There are also those who may not have PTSD but still end up addicted to prescription medication, particularly those that are issued for pain management.
Some of the most common and addictive prescription drugs include the following:
- Benzodiazepines, with brand names such as Ativan and Valium. They are often prescribed for anxiety and sleeplessness.
- Sedatives, with brand names such as Ambien.
- Painkillers, the most popular of which are Demerol, Dilaudid, OxyContin, and Vicodin.
After a while, those who take these kinds of medicines may develop a dependence. Now referred to as substance use disorder, this situation is defined as the need for one or more drugs to function properly. Substance use disorder can become a full-blown addiction after a time.
Some parties, like the Drug Policy Alliance Report, have urged authorities to include overdose prevention programs when treating veterans. In addition, they have also suggested medication to combat addiction. For example, buprenorphine and methadone are known to reduce withdrawal symptoms that can result from opioid addiction.
Note that a person can be dependent on drugs without being addicted to them, and vice versa. Technically speaking, dependence is a bodily response. For example, if a person has diabetes or high blood pressure, their body is dependent on medications to manage their condition. However, a person who depends on drugs may experience withdrawals similar to that of an addicted person.
Addiction, meanwhile, means that the person is seeking and using drugs (legal or otherwise) despite knowing the consequences of doing so. Those who have addictions often feel that they cannot stop using the drugs even if they don’t have a reason to take them. This can lead to serious consequences, including accidental overdose or even death.
Why Do Some Veterans Refuse Rehabilitation?
Military men and women are often viewed as the epitome of strength, both physically and mentally. In addition to this, there are also certain stigmas associated with mental health and substance abuse. Society has made considerable steps toward a better understanding of mental health issues; nevertheless, the stigmas still remain.
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This is why many veterans (and even current service members) refuse to seek treatment and rehabilitation. As a result, they go undiagnosed for a long time. This causes not just addiction but also other health disorders that can harm themselves and those around them.
What Are the Resources Available for Rehabilitation for Veterans?
In 2009, the Department of Defense launched a campaign dubbed Real Warriors. Real Battles. Real Strength. It was meant to encourage both active-duty soldiers and veterans to seek help, one among which is therapy. The campaign also centered on learning more about the invisible wounds that a tour of duty can bring to a soldier. More importantly, Real Warriors is meant to battle the stigmas that prevent soldiers from seeking the treatment they need.
Aside from this, the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) also offers benefits for veterans. In particular, the VA covers the cost of alcohol or drug rehabilitation. Veterans can avail of this benefit by getting in touch with a VA healthcare provider or the nearest veteran center. There is also the VA hotline myVA311 (1-844-MyVA311 or 1-844-698-2311).
Some of the services offered by the VA include:
- Screening, which helps determine the kind of rehabilitation and other treatment services needed
- Inpatient or residential care for those who need intensive treatment
- Outpatient rehabilitation and counseling
- After-rehab care, including access to support groups, as well as livelihood assistance
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Family therapy
- Medications for withdrawal, if needed
- Chiropractic care for physical trauma and injuries
There are various addiction treatment centers sponsored by the VA across the United States. There are also non-profit alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers and private facilities that cater to the unique needs of veterans.
Signs of Addiction or Substance Use Disorder
People suffering from drug addiction often aren’t able to determine or accept their situation. Thus, it’s often up to family members or close friends of the veteran to figure out the situation. To help get timely diagnosis and rehabilitation, keep an eye on the following signs:
- Poor performance at work
- Social dysfunction
- Strong cravings, bordering on obsession, for certain substances
- Inability to cultivate or maintain relationships
- Lack of energy or motivation to do daily tasks
- Self-destructive behaviors
- Low self-esteem or low sense of self-worth
If you notice these signs, consider discussing the options with your loved ones on how to help veterans get the rehabilitation they need to recover. Learn more not just about the treatment options available, but also about addiction and other issues that may occur alongside it. With full support, any veteran who suffers from addiction can sober up and lead a normal life.
How Better Addiction Care Can Help
There are times when veterans (or their family members) avoid the VA, since it can take a while to get the treatment they need. For mild cases, the wait may be acceptable. However, for serious cases of PTSD, addiction, and other conditions, immediate treatment and rehabilitation are needed. Luckily, there are thousands of rehab facilities that can cater to veterans across the United States.
Better Addiction Care (BAC) has a nationwide network of these facilities. Call us at (800) 429-7690 to speak with our representatives. We can provide you with helpful advice regarding the most suitable treatment and rehabilitation programs for veterans.
It doesn’t matter if you or your loved one needs inpatient or outpatient care, or have multiple co-occurring conditions. You can count on BAC to give you the best recommendations to suit individual needs. We can even help you find an out-of-town option; at times, it’s recovery can be achieved much faster at a location away from home.
Remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to rehabilitation. There are many factors behind everyone’s addiction, which means there are also many ways to achieve sobriety. Genetics can even play a role in a person’s risk of addiction.
The key is to seek help from professionals as soon as possible. For those surrounding the patient, support is a crucial element of recovery. Rehabilitation might be a long and difficult journey, but the results will be worth it.