As technology advances and our military becomes more intelligent, the face of war has changed in our world. Yet the toll that combat can take on those serving in our military is still a growing problem.
Many of our nation’s bravest have come home from foreign lands where they were dealing with unknown dangers and putting their life on the line on a daily basis. Some of the memories they bring home with them are horrific in nature and can cause many issues if left untreated.
Among the most prevalent of these concerns are physical pain from injuries and mental illnesses such as PTSD. Over time, many of these brave men and women who fought for our freedom find themselves fighting for freedom from alcohol and substance abuse.
If you or a loved one are a veteran who has returned home only to find yourself fighting this new battle against substance abuse, you are not alone. There is help available to you right now.
There are an estimated 23.4 million veterans in the United States today and an additional 2.2 million active military service members, as well as 3.1 million immediate family members. According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there were approximately 1.5 million veterans who had a substance use disorder in 2014.
According to the US Government Accountability Office, there were 2.1 million veterans who received mental health treatment between 2006 and 2010. A study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration revealed that only 50% of the veterans who need mental health treatment will receive these services.
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Overview of Substance Abuse Among Veterans
The statistics are alarming. The rate of mental illness amongst returning soldiers has steadily increased over the years, perhaps due to better diagnosis. Many veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after experiencing the oftentimes horrific reality of war. But PTSD is not the only issue that soldiers are dealing with when returning home.
According to the Lone Survivor Foundation, more than 300,000 service members have suffered from a traumatic brain injury. The site also reports that more than 30% of Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD. In addition, approximately 50% of veterans deal with chronic pain issues on a daily basis. The RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research reports that 20% of those who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from either major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
The stress that is placed on the families of those who are deployed can also be tremendous. The worry, stress, and anxiety of having their loved one battle enemies halfway around the world can have a significant impact on family members. Sadly, research has shown that 38% of Vietnam veteran marriages failed within 6 months of returning home. A study published by the Pentagon in 2005 reported that the divorce rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had increased 78%.
Dealing with these issues can cause numerous problems in the life of a veteran who has returned home. Readjusting to everyday life can be very difficult and overwhelming. Turning to drugs or alcohol to numb this pain and confusion may seem like an inviting escape. The problem with this is that substance use can often turn into abuse and addiction. With addiction comes more isolation, mental illness concerns, homelessness, and increased health problems. It is a vicious cycle of negative outcomes that has been overlooked for so long.
Pain that Leads to Addiction
The US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health reports that an estimated 65.5% of all US military personnel report suffering from chronic pain. This staggering figure is just the first in a series of concerns. Veterans who experience combat injuries may return home and be unable to find suitable work and thus have lower incomes, be unable to support themselves or their families, face increased health care costs, and may turn to alcohol or drugs to deal with the pain when traditional medicine is not able to help.
Pain that is left untreated can also lead to many mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, poor quality of life, and unhealthy sleep patterns. This can also all take a big toll on the family members that care for these veterans. With 2 out of 3 veterans returning home suffering from chronic pain, this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed before it leads to other potentially more serious issues.
One of the most effective treatments for severe chronic pain is opioid prescription medication. Unfortunately, our nation is currently in the midst of an opioid crisis due in part to the mismanagement of prescriptions, lack of research on the issue, and the high prevalence of addiction to these medications. Because of these concerns, the military passed the Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI) for Chronic Pain in 2017. These guidelines were created to help doctors when it comes to treating veterans who suffer from chronic pain or traumatic brain injuries.
Suicide and Veteran Addiction
A recent study by the Department of Veterans Affairs showed that Veterans who develop alcohol or drug problems are twice as likely as the general population to commit suicide. For women veterans, the numbers are even more staggering: they are more than five times as likely to take their own life.
The results of the survey show the even bigger need to treat veterans who return home suffering from PTSD, depression, traumatic brain injuries, chronic pain and other physical and mental health concerns. According to a report published by the US Department of Veteran Affairs, veterans are 22% more likely to commit suicide after returning home from combat. In 2014 alone, there were an average of 20 veterans each day who took their own life to escape the hell they lived with. The number of veterans who go on to suffer from depression and other mental illnesses is even higher.
These shocking statistics highlight the importance of getting help for yourself or your loved one who may be struggling with addiction after serving in the military. Don’t wait until it is too late. Know that no matter where you are located, help is available today and there are so many compassionate, skilled professionals that will welcome you or your loved one with open arms into the beginning of the treatment journey.
PTSD and Its Correlation to Veteran Addiction
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is just one of the many mental health concerns that service members can be plagued with upon returning from war. It is by far one of the most prevalent issues in the veteran community today, with increasing numbers of soldiers suffering from this condition.
PTSD is a condition that develops after a person has witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. PTSD can affect anyone, whether they are military personnel or civilian. However, given the nature of war and the situations that our soldiers experience during active duty, it is no wonder that there is a higher rate of PTSD cases amongst veterans.
Someone who has PTSD may find that they are unable to sleep due to nightmares, may be on edge in certain situations, and may have simple, everyday things trigger their condition (such as a car backfiring or the sound of a firecracker). PTSD sufferers may also feel like they are anxious, irritable, and easily angered. These feelings can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns as well.
It is common for veterans returning home from active duty to want to escape the feeling of constantly being on edge. After all, they risked their lives for our country, so shouldn’t they be allowed to return home without the fear they once held while away on duty? Unfortunately, yet understandably, many of our nation’s veterans turn to alcohol or drugs to quiet these issues. If left untreated, these symptoms and their self-medication can lead to an even larger problem of addiction.
There are several reasons why the number of veterans who suffer from PTSD is so high, leading to higher rates of other mental health issues and addictions. Some of these include:
- Not knowing where to go for help
- Increasingly long wait times to receive mental health treatment
- Shame about seeking mental health services
- Lack of education concerning treatment options and mental illness in general
- Distance needed to travel to receive covered benefits
- Stigma often associated with people who are being treated for mental illness
It is important to realize that PTSD is not something that you can prevent. There is no vaccine that can stop it from happening to you. If you do experience symptoms of PTSD, there is help available. Today, more than ever before, treatments such as EMDR are readily available to help treat conditions such as PTSD. It is so important to seek help for yourself or a loved one before the condition develops into something far worse.
Addiction Among Women Veterans
In recent years, the number of female veterans with problematic substance use disorders has dramatically risen. Those using VA services who have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder has increased by 81% from 2005 to 2010.
Female veterans face an increased challenge simply because of their gender. Statistics show that when compared to their male counterparts, women are twice as likely to develop PTSD and twice as likely to experience serious psychological distress. In addition, approximately 1 in 5 women report experiencing sexual trauma in the military which can also lead to PTSD or other issues.
Signs it’s Time to Get Help
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2.1 million veterans received mental health treatment from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in the five year period from 2006 through 2010. A study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration revealed that only 50% of returning veterans who need veteran mental health treatment will receive these services.
There are certain signs to look for if you fear that you or a loved one need help with alcohol or substance use. Some of these include:
- Changes in appearance
- Sudden weight loss
- Bloodshot or glazed eyes
- Physical withdrawal when not using
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Loss of interest in friends and family
- Less enjoyment of activities
- Social isolation
- Unable to quit substances despite trying
- Continued substance use despite financial or legal trouble
Rehab For Veterans
If you have decided that it is time to get help, the good news is that there are many options available to veterans. Below is a list of resources for you and your loved ones to turn to when the time is right:
The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text.
Provides 24/7 confidential help to veterans. Available to all active duty, National Guard and Reserve members, veterans, retirees and their families and caregivers.
Help coping with stress, anxiety, or depression after a disaster.
8901 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20889
34800 Bob Wilson Drive, San Diego, CA 92134
3551 Roger Brooke Dr, Fort Sam Houston, TX 78234
Wounded Warrior Programs
Provides and enables assistance to wounded, ill and injured Marines and their family members in order to assist them as they return to duty or transition to civilian life.
Assists and advocates for severely wounded, ill or injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families, wherever they are located, regardless of military status.
Coordinates the non-medical care of seriously wounded, ill, and injured Sailors, Coast Guardsmen, and their families.
Aims to keep highly skilled men and women on active duty. If this is not feasible, the Air Force will ensure Airmen receive enhanced assistance through the AFW2 program.
Rehab Programs and Other Helpful Resources
Veteran substance abuse treatment and rehab program operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The program offers a variety of therapies and support services to eligible veterans who have a substance abuse disorder. Treatment services are provided at numerous VA medical centers and clinics around the country.
Connecting Wounded Warriors, Service Members, Veterans, their families, and caregivers with supporting resources.
Resources for Military and Veteran Benefits for active duty, retirees, spouses and family members, reserve and guard members, and information about VA loans.
Helps members of the armed forces when they leave the military and transition back to civilian life. Assists with challenging experiences, transitions, troubling symptoms, and mental health conditions. The Make the Connection public awareness campaign is key to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) efforts to support Veterans and encourage them to access the support and care they deserve and earned.
A private, non-profit organization that promotes the full participation of America’s 56 million people with disabilities in all aspects of life. Today, NOD focuses on increasing employment opportunities for the 79 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities who are not employed.
NCD is an independent federal agency charged with advising the President, Congress, and other federal agencies regarding policies, programs, practices, and procedures that affect people with disabilities.
Information and Technical Assistance with the (ADA), including how and where to file a report.
Veteran Affairs operates the nation’s largest integrated health care system, with more than 1,700 hospitals, clinics, community living centers, domiciliaries, readjustment counseling centers, and other facilities.
At the Cohen Veterans Network, we seek to improve the quality of life for veterans, including those from the National Guard and Reserves, and their families. CVN works to strengthen mental health outcomes and complement existing support, with a particular focus on post-traumatic stress. Our vision is to ensure that every veteran and family member is able to obtain access to high-quality, effective care that enables them to lead fulfilling and productive lives.
The SSA delivers their services through a nationwide network of over 1,400 offices that include regional offices, field offices, card centers, teleservice centers, processing centers, hearing offices, the Appeals Council, and our State and territorial partners, the Disability Determination Services.
Vet Centers understand and appreciate Veterans’ war experiences while assisting them and their family members toward a successful post-war adjustment in or near their community.