With Veterans Day right around the corner, some of us may be preparing to honor the veterans and military members in our lives over the course of this weekend. Many of us may also be concerned about the mental and physical health of our military loved ones during this time, as substance abuse and mental illness are common struggles many veterans face after returning home.
Why Are Veterans at Increased Risk for Substance Abuse?
According to the National Veterans Foundation, alcohol abuse and prescription drug abuse is more common among the military population for a variety of reasons.1 Common factors that increase the risk for addiction include:
- Traumatic experiences during deployment – Many of the things that active military members experience in combat and elsewhere can be very traumatic. These experiences often leave psychological and physical wounds. For many veterans, substance abuse is a form of self-medication and an attempt to cope with these issues. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there is a very strong relationship between Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders and almost one out of every three veterans seeking treatment for a substance use disorder also has PTSD.2
- Treatment involving powerful narcotics – Some veterans may have physical injuries that are treated with powerful narcotic painkillers. These drugs can easily lead to addiction, dependence, and prescription drug abuse over time.
- Difficulties in civilian life – Re-adjusting to civilian life is difficult for many individuals returning home from service and job loss, divorce, and financial strain are common. Service members may rely on drugs and/or alcohol to cope with the stressors and difficulties they experience during this difficult and transitional time.
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), service members with multiple deployments and combat exposure are most at risk of developing drug and alcohol problems and prescription drug abuse, and these issues often co-occur alongside PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and pain.3
Statistics on Veteran Substance Abuse and Mental Health
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have published a number of statistics illustrating the negative effects of trauma-related stress service members often experience during deployment.2,4
- Mental disorders and substance abuse caused more hospitalizations among U.S. troops in 2009 than any other cause.
- 7.1 percent of U.S. veterans met the criteria for a substance use disorder between 2004 and 2006.
- The army suicide rate reached an all-time high in 2012.
- About half of all returning service members need mental health treatment. Unfortunately, only slightly more than 50 percent of those who seek it receive adequate treatment.
- More than 1,100 members of the Armed Forces took their own lives in the five-year span from 2005 to 2009. That’s an average of 1 suicide every 36 hours.
- In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about one in 10 returning soldiers seen by the VA have a substance use problem with alcohol or drugs.
- More than two of 10 veterans with PTSD also have a substance use disorder.
The Prevalence of Prescription Drug Abuse Among Veterans
Although illicit drug use among the military population is low, prescription drug abuse within this population has increased dramatically, especially the abuse of prescription opioid pain relievers.3
One study published by Military Medicine, a peer-reviewed journal, found that the receipt of a prescription pain reliever in the past month, year, or previous year was a strong predictor that a member of the military would abuse drugs.5 Additionally, a department of defense study found that the rate of prescription drug misuse among veterans was more than two-and-a-half times higher than the civilian rate.3
While many veterans have a legitimate need for opioid pain relievers, the increasing availability and the growing number of narcotic prescriptions being given out by military doctors increases the risk of military members developing an addiction or substance use disorder and there are many barriers to treatment.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, active duty service members and veterans face a number of barriers that may keep them from seeking or receiving the mental health and substance abuse help they need.6 These barriers often include:
- Stigma associated with mental health and substance abuse issues
- Personal shame over the need to seek help
- Personal embarrassment due to the fact that they are suffering from mental illness and/or a substance use disorder
- A fear of being viewed as weak
- Long wait times to receive treatment
- Logistical issues such as a lack of proper care nearby
Although one or some of these barriers may have kept you or your loved one from receiving the treatment they need, it’s never too late to seek help. You or your loved one will most likely need to enroll in a drug detox program before entering long-term rehab for addiction treatment, but this is the start of a new life that is free from addiction.
If you are struggling to find adequate treatment for a substance use disorder, Hill Country Detox can provide you with a highly individualized drug detox program that will help manage uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and overcome your addiction. We will design your drug detox program based on the results of your personal comprehensive assessment so we can best meet your needs. This treatment plan will be modified as your needs change throughout the course of your detox program.
If you’d like to learn more about our detox center or drug and alcohol detox programs, please call (888) 512-5020 to speak to our admissions team today.
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