Drug abuse among veterans is higher than in most other civilian populations. This is due, in large part, to post-traumatic stress disorder, which plagues combat veterans, especially those who have endured multiple deployments.
Veterans and Substance Dependence
Veterans have been there for our country, protecting us from dangers we could not see, dangers we did not hear, and dangers we did not know existed. Veterans have stood on the frontline during combat. They have made decisions that most could not make. They have withstood pressures that would crumble many. These men and women deserve our undivided attention, and our help when it comes to a dependence on any substances.
What causes drug abuse in veterans?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common condition among veterans that can lead to drug abuse. As well, according to National Center for PTSD, 2 out of 10 veterans suffering from PTSD also suffer from a Substance Use Disorder.
In many cases, veterans who have turned to drugs or alcohol have a dual diagnosis. This means they not only have a drug dependency issue or addiction, but they also have a mental or mood disorder that compounds these issues. In many cases, the mood disorder in question is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can come as a result of being in combat. In fact, according to the National Center for PTSD reports that as many as 2 out of 10 veterans suffering from PTSD also suffer from SUD (Substance Use Disorder).
PTSD causes nightmares, flashbacks of traumatic events, anger, and oftentimes severe anxiety. These symptoms may come and go, often activated by triggers related to the event or trauma. It can sometimes be difficult to avoid triggers, depending on the source of the trauma. For instance, a truck backfiring may sound similar to guns or explosives and trigger an episode for a combat veteran.
What substances are commonly abused by veterans?
The most commonly substances of abuse for veterans are tobacco, alcohol, and prescription drugs. Statistics show that nearly one in three veterans seeking addiction treatment has PTSD, and nearly half of all veterans with PTSD use drugs or alcohol to cope with their disorder.
While drug use among active military is lower than the general population in terms of illicit drugs, prescription drug abuse is actually more common among military personnel. The most commonly abused prescription drugs among military workers are opioid pain medications, with up to 11 percent of active military members admitting to abusing prescription meds.
Alcohol and tobacco use are also common among military members. The zero tolerance policy when it comes to illegal drugs is likely why the use of these substances is so low, despite the high-stress situations often experienced by military members, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Post-traumatic stress disorder and drug use are heavily linked. Nearly one in three veterans who seeks treatment for a drug addiction also has post-traumatic stress disorder, and nearly half of all veterans with post-traumatic stress will use drugs or alcohol to cope with their disorder. Instances of drug abuse seem to be higher among men than women.
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
The symptoms for post-traumatic stress are similar to those of other mood disorders in some cases, as they can include anxiety and depression. Additional symptoms can include:
- Flashbacks to the traumatic event
- Intrusive memories, often triggered by current events or places
- Lashing out
- Bizarre behavior
- Sudden rage or violent outbursts
In many cases, treatment isn’t sought immediately. Sufferers may not realize they are suffering from a disorder, while others may feel shame or guilt at not being able to handle their emotions. Those who are also addicted to drugs or alcohol may feel additional shame or guilt due to their substance abuse. All of these work together to prevent veterans from seeking proper treatment.
Symptoms of Drug Abuse
The signs that someone is using drugs can be similar to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, so loved ones may not immediately notice that there is an additional problem at play. Signs that someone you love may be abusing drugs include:
- A sudden lack of hygiene or pride in one’s appearance
- Emotional outbursts, anger, or aggressiveness, even in those who are usually laid back and non-confrontational
- Other mood swings and changes in behavior
- Withdrawn demeanor, even in those who are normally outgoing
- Secretive behavior, such as locking doors and hiding things
- Spending money without explanation or asking to borrow money frequently
- Weight loss
- Sores on the face or mouth
- Glassy, watery, or red eyes
Most of these symptoms can also be common with other medical or mental conditions, but a professional should be sought in any event. If your loved one will not seek treatment, don’t give up hope.
Treatment for Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress and Addictions
The existence of a dual diagnosis complicates treatment of the addiction. Post-traumatic stress and drug addiction both need to be treated separately, and in varying ways. The exact treatment will depend on the patient and the symptoms present. It will also partly depend on the substance or substances being abuse. Those using drugs and alcohol, or a combination of drugs, may find treatment harder than those with a single addiction.
How to treat veteran addiction and PTSD?
Effective treatments for for veterans suffering from addictoin and PTSD do exist, but these two conditions require separate treatment. PTSD can be managed through counseling sessions, while substance abuse is best treated through inpatient treatment programs.
Step one of any treatment program is getting the patient on board. It is very hard to treat someone who doesn’t want to get help, or who denies that he has a problem in the first place. This is often achieved through an intervention, where friends and family members discuss the reasons they want the person to get help, and what they fear might happen if he doesn’t. In other cases, the addict has to hit “rock bottom,” by losing friends, jobs, or marriages, before they seek help.
Detoxification from the addictive substances also must be carried out. This is best done in an inpatient facility, because detoxing from some drugs can be very dangerous, or even fatal. In an inpatient rehab, doctors and other medical personnel are available to ensure the patient has proper guidance and medical attention if needed.
Ongoing counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder is also typically needed for those with symptoms of this disorder. Treatment usually includes therapy with a trained counselor with experience in treating post-traumatic stress, and sometimes medications to help alleviate anxiety.
If you or someone you know is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and a related addiction, there is help available. Our center has numerous success stories with even the most difficult cases.
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