War Veterans and Substance Abuse

Veterans and addiction

A person who isn’t involved in a war (non-military people) probably can’t comprehend how emotionally scarring it is to be sent to one. The sound of guns, bombs and the scary life-threatening situations a soldier goes through can affect them greatly once they go back home. This is why there are more and more reports/cases every year of war veterans using drugs and abuse alcohol.

Substance Abuse and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Among Veterans

A study shows that there is a significant correlation between PTSD and substance abuse among people who have served in the military. While some people try to cope with PTSD, symptoms will still follow. The use of drugs, excessive alcohol consumption and even smoking too much are among the most common habits soldiers with traumatic stress pick up. Although this is a big issue among military people, the American government offers a series of programs, treatments, and therapies to help address these problems. This way, veterans can get back on their feet again once they are not active and back into their civilian life.

Facts About PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans

In America, about 3.5% of the adult population or about 8 million Americans are affected with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It has been reported that 37% of those people with PTSD have severe symptoms, which has affected both men and women who were in the military.

  • It is reported that more than 2 out of every 10 veterans who have PTSD also suffer from substance abuse.
  • About 1 out of every 3 veterans who are seeking treatment for drug abuse claim to have PTSD.
  • Veterans with PTSD smoke twice the amount of cigarettes compared to a veteran who was not diagnosed with PTSD.
  • It is common for veterans with PTSD to binge drink in a short span of time.
  • About 1 out of every 10 veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have alcohol and drug problems.
  • Women are twice as likely to suffer from PTSD.

What is PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or most commonly known as PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that happens to a person who has witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. This could be a serious accident, natural disaster, war/combat, terrorist act, rape, as well as other violent personal assaults. It has also been known by many names such as “shell shock”, which was a popular term during WWI and in WWII, PTSD was called “combat fatigue”. It affects not only veterans, but common people as well. It can affect all types of people regardless of age, nationality, ethnicity or culture.

Intense feeling and disturbing thoughts are common for people who suffer from PTSD, even after the traumatic experience has ended. Flashbacks and nightmares are common among patients with this. Intense anger, sadness, and feelings of being detached or estranged from other people are also among the many symptoms that these people exhibit. This is also most common among war veterans who have suffered severe traumatic experiences during their deployment. Often, they avoid situations, people, and even events that could remind them of their experience. They also have strong negative reactions to simple or ordinary noises or even accidental touching.

Substance Abuse in the Military

About one-fourth of all war veteran deaths are related to substance abuse and has been a growing problem in the US military. Because of stress, the military lifestyle, and exposure to the war and combat zones, many military men and women turn to drug abuse. Besides drugs and alcohol, prescription opioids are also among the most abused substances among war veterans. It has been reported that from 2006 to 2009, 45% of 397 non-combat related deaths were related to drugs and alcohol overdose.

Women in the Military and Substance Abuse

Combat stress and trauma may vary depending on the gender. Studies show that military women are less likely to be reported as heavy drinkers when compared to military men, but the use of drugs and tobacco is more likely. It has also been discovered that women who abuse drugs or are likely to so because:

  • They have experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault, or trauma/fear of being sexually assaulted by their coworkers.
  • They are known to experience depression more often than men.
  • Military women are reported to have PTSD even before entering military service.
  • Women have experienced more stress due to gender differences in terms of their coping mechanisms.

Effects of Substance Abuse in Veterans

The ill-effects of these substances have proven to be fatal to many US troops. In 2009, it was reported that alcohol and drug abuse is one of the primary causes of hospitalization among many war veterans in the country. Besides the given side effects of alcohol and drugs in the body, it can also affect their mental health and physical greatly.

Treatment for Addicted Veterans

It is a known fact that plenty of returning men and women in the military suffer from PTSD, major depression, traumatic brain injury, mental health problems, and suicidal thoughts. Over the last two decades, more than 2 million American soldiers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. As assistance, the VA (Veterans Affairs) provides care and other helpful services to those who have served in WWII, Vietnam, Korea, and the Persian Gulf War. While this has proven to be a great help to many veterans, only 50% of them were given the appropriate care and treatment for mental health conditions. This is also due to the fact that not many American veterans actually ask for help. Most of them are hesitant to ask for advice on what to do because of the following reasons:

  • Longer waiting periods.
  • Accessibility and affordability of the case.
  • Feeling of shame or embarrassment when one seeks out treatment for mental health issues.
  • The stigma associated with addiction and other disorders.
  • Lack of eligibility for the program.
  • Lack of quality care by the VA.
  • Demographic barriers like gender and age.

Help for War Veterans with Substance Abuse

For those who are seeking assistance or treatment on this matter, you can ask for assistance and guidance from the following:

  1. The Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center – commonly known as VA, is the medical center for SUD and it offers a variety of treatment programs war veterans. They have trained professionals who can treat PTSD and provide veterans with the best treatment programs that could help them give up drinking and drug abuse. In order to avail of this, a veteran must first be enrolled in the VA health care system to benefit from it.
  2. Addiction Counselors – help veterans by identifying the best program or course of treatment. Some patients are placed in a detoxification program before they can enter a rehabilitation center.
  3. Private Addiction Treatment and Rehabilitation Centers – if you are a veteran and want a more private treatment, this is the best place to go. You can choose from private inpatient or outpatient facilities who can hold your anonymity and safeguard your confidentiality.
  4. Mental Health Counselor – veterans who are suffering from mental disorders are welcomed in facilities like this. They provide the right treatment for mental health issues and PTSD in order to avoid SUD.

It is always a hard place to be when you are a war veteran suffering from substance abuse and PTSD. As challenging as it is, it can still be treated and through behavioral therapies, correct pharmacological treatments, our military men and women can be reintegrated into society comfortably. If this is your case right now, it’s best to get the treatment you need immediately. Help is readily available to you if you choose it. Start a new life, good luck!