A devastating number of U.S. Veterans suffer from drug addiction, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and/or alcoholism. These men and women who gave their lives to protecting our freedoms have some of the highest rates of substance abuse disorder. It’s not just our most recent Veterans who suffer from this; it has been a widespread issue for decades. Why is this group of people so highly affected by drugs and alcohol?
The Rise of Prescription Painkillers
The most commonly abused drug among Veterans is prescription painkillers. Prescription painkillers have become a serious issue especially over the past 20 years. The entire country is in the middle of an opioid crisis, and our troops are no exception. Medications like Vicodin, morphine, methadone, Percocet, and hydrocodone have become more and more common. The country saw a huge surge in these meds in the mid-2000s, and since then they have only grown in popularity among recreational users.
Many in our armed forces are treated with these powerful narcotic pain medications. Doctors will prescribe these drugs to help them cope with injuries or accidents that took place during their enlistment. These drugs do wonders to help with pain, but they also create a powerful euphoric effect, giving them a high potential for abuse. Even if they are taken as prescribed, one can become physically and mentally dependent on these drugs. The longer they use the drug, the higher their tolerance will become, and it will take more and more of the same drug to produce the same effect.
Those who are taking more than the prescribed amount or just taking the pills to get high are at a much greater risk of becoming physically and mentally hooked on these drugs. The longer they use these drugs, the stronger the grip of these substances will have on the user will become.
Alcoholism among Veterans
Alcohol abuse is also very common among Veterans. Over the past 75 years, it has become a more well-known issue and a big concern for returning military personnel. It’s common for current and former military to face a variety of challenges while enlisted and upon returning home. Days are extremely scheduled, but are far from routine for those serving overseas or in conflict areas. Our forces are constantly facing challenges and putting themselves face-to-face with danger regularly. Unpredictable deployments, coupled with a high risk of injury and being separated from loved ones, are not easy.
While the military has a zero tolerance policy for any illegal drugs, its views on alcohol are not the same. The U.S. military doesn’t approve of or condone the consumption of alcohol while members are enlisted. This does not mean it’s uncommon. Some soldiers will drink to pass the time, but abuse rates rise significantly when they are overseas and in potential combat situations. Alcohol is commonly used as a coping mechanism during these difficult times.
Breaking free from this is no easy task. The drugs and alcohol are simply surface issues, and many returning Veterans struggle with underlying issues such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. These problems commonly occur after one has been in combat or have seen war: 15 percent of Veterans suffer from PTSD, 11 percent of service members reported abusing prescription drugs, and 27 percent of soldiers returning from combat abuse of alcohol upon returning home. Those who suffer from PTSD are much more prone to alcohol and substance abuse related issues.
Knowing the signs of PTSD are important and include some serious issues. One may start re-experiencing the trauma through intense and powerful flashbacks of a life-changing event. This can lead to nightmares/night terrors and even auditory/visual hallucinations.
Any Veteran who is struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues should seek professional help from a dual diagnosis treatment facility. These programs will help those suffering from both the drugs and the alcohol and the underlying mental health issues. If one is left untreated, the chance of recovery for those struggling to overcome their issues is minimal