Alcohol and prescription drug abuse are higher among active duty service members and veterans. Many are prescribed drugs for injuries and later become addicted, others self-medicate to treat emotional trauma and PTSD.
The concern for addiction in Veterans is undeniable, as the increase in outpatient veterans treated for addiction has risen 52.7 % and between 2006 and 2009 more than 45 % of the 397 non combat-related deaths were due to drug overdose.
Drug Use After The Military
Many men and women who are serving in the military or have previously served struggle with addiction. Veterans are exposed to high levels of violence and poor emotional treatment that can cause reoccurring disorders like depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Symptoms of these disorders after exposure to combat or long periods of deployment include:
- Memory Issues
- Severe Mood Swings
- Self-Destructive/ Violent Behavior
- Suicidal Thoughts
Service members return from combat zones with an array serious issues both physical and mental. While some require opioid or other prescription drugs for treatment, a large portion end up misusing the drug leading to addiction.
Women especially are exposed to trauma, as reports of sexual abuse in the military are rising.
When these disorders are not addressed and are instead combined with drug and alcohol abuse, both conditions spiral into even more serious and potentially life-threatening problem. In the United States alone, more than 20 % of veterans who are diagnosed with PTSD also suffer from an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Individuals who have a combination of drug addiction and post-trauma disorder have a much harder time overcoming addiction than those without it. Withdrawal symptoms in conjunction with the symptoms of the disorder amplify both at a very strong rate.
The most common medications abused after service are opioid pain pills and benzodiazepines. Veteran patients have easy access and availability to these medications and doctors tend to be the biggest culprits in overprescribing. Over 60 % of veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq were prescribed at least one opioid in the period of a year. On top of that, use of alcohol is widely accepted and can lead to a dangerous combination. Current and past Veterans also report sharing medications and alcohol to treat emotional and physical pain.
The Vicious Cycle
The combination of PTSD and drug abuse is a vicious one and a very difficult one to treat. Many veterans are in such a low emotional place they don’t have the desire or drive to get sober. The cycle leads to worsening addiction, difficulty maintaining a job post-combat, worsening physical and emotional pain, and overdose. Making the transition back to society after serving is a difficult challenge on its own, and adding addiction to the mix can make it feel nearly impossible. Due to lack of treatment and care, veterans can wind up unemployed, homeless, or behind bars. To avoid low quality of life after deployment, it’s crucial veterans and families of veterans seek treatment for any addiction or mental disorder.
The Veterans Affairs offers a large variety of medication-assisted and therapeutic treatment programs designed specifically for Veterans. Clinicians and specialists of this area are trained to care for individuals who have suffered through the trauma of deployment, war, and violence. There are different levels of treatment available depending on the severity of the addiction and offer other options in areas where VA care centers are unavailable. The VA has helped over one million veterans and their addiction, and offer treatment options such as:
- Outpatient Counseling
- Long-Term Inpatient Treatment
- Residential Care
- Relapse Prevention
- Support Groups
- Talk Therapy
In cases of emergencies, Veterans may also use community providers to receive outpatient treatment, emergency visits, and comprehensive mental health care. The journey to sobriety for Veterans is a difficult one, but far from impossible. If you or a loved one are a Veteran with a drug addiction, or suffering from PTSD, know that help is available to you.
Should I Receive Treatment Through the VA?
The VA tries hard to offer proper care for all Veterans, but the number of veterans struggling with addiction and PTSD is so high it can be hard to care for all. They don’t have an unlimited budget, and sometimes they don’t have the money or resources to offer the proper care. In some cases, Veterans could receive care but are put on a list and forced to wait. In these situations, that waiting time could be the difference between life and death. If you or a loved one is in serious need of help right away, considering going through a community provider or other treatment service with quicker access.
Getting Help For You Or A Loved One
If you are a female veteran suffering from both PTSD and addiction, Wayside House can help. Our program provides a safe environment to recover. It is a women-only program that offers not only treatment for addiction, but also treatment and healing for PTSD. If you are ready to get help, call Wayside House at 800-655-0817 today.