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Veteran Addiction: Risks, Signs and Treatment

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Men and women participating in all branches of the military experience a challenging lifestyle while attempting to maintain integrity and strength. High levels of stress, highly traumatic experiences, and the expectation of control in all situations are heavy burdens to carry.

Unfortunately, the resulting experience of an enormous number of active and retired military is veteran addiction. Exposure to traumatic battles, many soldiers experience life-changing injuries, chronic pain, and mental health conditions they are unable to cope with, so they reach out to drugs and alcohol to make it through.

The government is more than aware of the number of service men and women struggling with substance use disorders and mental health conditions. Suicide rates are profoundly high, and special programs are continually in development to address the needs of the military. Military service is often generational, so many serving today have seen their family beforehand suffer and cope through using alcohol and drugs. The time has come for the military to receive treatment for substance use and PTSD to end the life-threatening behaviors.

An Overview of Veteran Addiction

Many complex factors contribute to the high percentage of men and women in the military experiencing addiction and mental health conditions. Throughout the history of the military, an acceptable coping mechanism has been alcohol use. The people who put their lives in danger to serve our country also cope with injury, chronic pain, and family dysfunction. Prescription medications are the standard treatment for all factors, without the consideration that opioids and other pain and anxiety medications are highly addictive. Add alcohol to the mix, and you can see that veteran addiction is often unintentional and a chronic problem.

Signs of Veteran Addiction

The behaviors displayed when veterans return home and try to integrate back into civilian life can be indicators of survivor guilt, shame for necessary actions in traumatic times, and an inability to conform to civilian rules and laws. The symptoms of mental health struggles can be challenging to cope with and cause an increase in the use of alcohol or drugs.

Veterans taking prescription medications for chronic pain may begin to take higher dosages of the medicine than the prescription calls for, and this misuse may become alarming. Loved ones often feel helpless in addressing misuse or addiction.

The following signs may become apparent when misuse turns to abuse or addiction, and a co-occurring mental health disorder may be present:

  • Reckless and dangerous behaviors become common
  • Lack of attention for friends and family
  • Using more medications than normal
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or binge drinking
  • Self-isolation and avoidance behaviors
  • Sadness, depression, or anxiety
  • Speaking out with suicidal ideations

Veterans and PTSD: Symptoms

Veterans who complete training and continue to experience combat and traumatic events suffer depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In past decades, PTSD symptoms would receive a diagnosis of shell shock or battle fatigue. The symptoms of these mental health conditions may trigger alcohol or drug use as a coping mechanism. Multiple deployments can also initiate stress and family dysfunctions, leading to the same results.

According to The Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 2 out of 10 veterans with PTSD also have a substance use disorder. Likewise, almost 1 out of every 3 veterans seeking treatment for a substance use disorder also have PTSD. The symptoms of PTSD can make veterans rely on alcohol or drugs to cope with the physical and psychological distress. Veteran addiction is often the result of a combination of factors.

Symptoms of PTSD can include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Low sense of self-worth and hopelessness
  • Memory problems
  • Insomnia
  • Relationship problems
  • Agitation and aggression
  • Avoidance behaviors
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as self-harm or substance abuse

Co-Occurring Disorders and Addiction

Unfortunately, a mental health stigma remains strong in the military. Veterans may believe that admitting to depression, anxiety, phobias, or post-traumatic stress disorder is a personal weakness instead of a real medical problem.

Veteran addiction can result from using alcohol and drugs to cope with the symptoms of their co-occurring disorders. Dual diagnosis is a confirmed medical diagnosis, and treatment is available. Additionally, the government is raising awareness of many of the programs designated to address mental health conditions and addiction.

Veteran Addiction Treatment

The transition from military engagement to civilian life can be challenging. For veterans who have a substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental health concern, there are many options to seek help. The VA continues to allow care through community healthcare providers and VA facilities. Many professional treatment centers specialize in treating veterans dealing with addiction.

Those dealing with veteran addiction need to reach out for help as soon as possible. The suicide rates for veterans are very high compared to civilians. Medically managed detox with the option of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the initial program for substance treatment. Counseling can follow with inpatient or outpatient programs depending on personal needs. Addiction treatment can include treating a co-occurring mental health disorder.

Find Addiction and Mental Health Treatment Geared for Veterans in California

Veterans and their families seeking treatment for a substance use disorder have many options. Sierra Health + Wellness values the service veterans have given our country and work closely with Veterans Affairs to provide treatment for veteran addiction. The center offers programs to treat dual diagnosis and trauma-related mental health concerns.

Contact us for more information on their specialized programs.