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Veterans Drug Addiction and Treatment

Many veterans come back from war with intense physical pain, as well as emotional and mental scars from the experiences they went through. These veterans are often prescribed pain medication and sometimes medication for emotional symptoms, especially for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

These drugs are often meant to be used on a short-term basis, but it takes time to get over the physical and emotional trauma of war. Because of this, many veterans find themselves becoming addicted to one or a combination of prescription medication, illegal drugs or alcohol. If you are using more and more of a substance or are using substances in a way they were not intended for, and you can’t seem to stop the pattern, you might be seeing signs of addiction.

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If you are looking for help for yourself or a loved one, you can find the help you need in a drug rehab program. Going through rehab doesn’t mean you are weak; instead, overcoming a substance can show incredible strength. You can help yourself, your family and your community by getting help for addiction.

What Substances Can Lead to Addiction?

When you think of drug addiction, you probably think of illegal street drugs. While these can definitely cause addiction, prescription drugs and alcohol can as well.

The 2008 Department of Defense Health Behavior Survey showed that illegal drug use has gone down in military personnel, while the abuse of prescription drugs has become more prominent, doubling between 2002 and 2005 and nearly tripling between 2005 and 2008.

Veterans are often prescribed drugs for pain and emotional concerns that are meant to be used on a temporary basis. However, it is not quick or easy to get over the mental and physical pain of war, so many veterans end up becoming dependent on these substances, or looking to other substances, to find relief. Also, some veterans might rely more heavily on these substances when they are missing medical treatment specific to their needs, counseling and support systems from their lives.

Many veterans are reluctant to go off prescription medications because they think their pain and emotional symptoms will return and that other methods won’t work the same way. Many veterans become tolerant of these drugs and need to take higher doses to achieve the same effects.

In many cases, veterans begin with prescription drugs for their pain and emotional symptoms and they eventually switch to taking illegal drugs, like methamphetamine, heroin or methadone. This can be because they need higher and higher doses of prescription drugs and they opt for something stronger, or because the prescriptions drugs don’t agree with them. In some cases, the doctor will no longer prescribe higher doses of prescription drugs, so the patient looks elsewhere for pain relief.

You might not think alcohol is as serious as other drugs, but you can become addicted to alcohol as well. Alcohol abuse is more common than drug abuse for veterans, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence cites that from those coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan during 2006 to 2008, one in eight troops were recommended for alcohol counseling.

Alcohol abuse is categorized by overusing alcohol but still being able to control drinking, explains the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. On the other hand, alcoholics with an alcohol addiction have a physical dependence on alcohol, which causes the same symptoms as drug addiction.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Abuse

Many veterans drink alcohol and rely on prescription or street drugs to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. When hard-to-handle memories, flashbacks and other symptoms come, alcohol and drugs are a means of escape and coping. In addition to post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other physical and emotional conditions connected with veterans can lead to addiction.

A March 2012 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that 17.8 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and 11.7 percent with other mental health diagnoses were much more likely to be given opioids for pain, as compared to the 6.5 percent of veterans who didn’t have a diagnosed mental health disorder and were given opioids. Plus, the ones with PTSD often received higher doses or larger amounts of opioids, or were given opioids along with sedative hypnotics. The study concluded that this population has a high risk of abuse.

These problems go beyond current veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, as veterans from Vietnam and other wars and conflicts have been dealing with them for a long time. The Drug Policy Alliance cites that 75 percent of Vietnam combat veterans who have PTSD also suffer from abuse or dependence on addictive substances.

How Do You Know You Have an Addiction?

Maybe you drink more than you did before the war or you keep taking more prescription pills to deal with the pain, but you’re not sure if you’re addicted. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offers some ways to determine if it’s time to seek help for an addiction. Consider these questions to ask yourself:

  • Have I tried to control my drug use, but it doesn’t seem to work?
  • Do I need to take more and more of the same drug for it to work as well as it used to?
  • When I stop using drugs after prolonged use, do I experience trouble sleeping, depression, nausea, anxiety, restlessness, shaking or other withdrawal symptoms?
  • Do I think about drugs constantly, use them constantly and skip activities I used to engage in because of drugs?
  • Have drugs caused me to black out, experience paranoia and depression, or other symptoms that are bad for me, but these symptoms didn’t stop me from using them again?

If you answered “yes” to some or all of these questions, you are showing some of the signs and symptoms of addiction. But don’t worry – you have options available to you. Many treatment possibilities exist that you can try, plus there are many support systems available to help you succeed.

Why Should You Stop Using Drugs?

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offers many reasons why it’s a good idea to quit. Drug abuse:

  • Costs the United States about $190 billion per year from lost productivity, healthcare costs and legal costs
  • Can cause health problems and addiction
  • Can lead to death from overdose or other drug-related complications
  • Has a negative impact on families
  • Can lead to crime and homelessness
  • Can spread infectious diseases
  • Can cause health problems in unborn children of pregnant drug users

Specific to veterans, the Drug Policy Alliance explains that about 140,000 veterans were in state and federal prisons in 2004 from nonviolent drug offenses.


Drug Rehab for Veterans

If you’re a veteran and you’re ready to find help for your addiction, or if you’re here looking for help for a loved one, there are many options available to you. You no longer have to go through this alone.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, known as the VA, is one of the best places for treatment as a veteran. It offers VA Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Treatment Programs that are located around the country. The VA offers specialized help for veterans because they know your unique needs, including the fact that PTSD can be a factor. The VA offers various treatment methods for drug and alcohol abuse that, depending on your individual case, can include:

The non-profit organization Veterans Healing Initiative (VHI) can also assist you to get the help you need. The VHI helps pay for treatment and offers a 24-hour hotline. They also work to spread awareness of the specific needs of veterans. This program is especially beneficial for veterans without VA benefits and those who are uninsured or under-insured.

The Department of Defense is trying to offer alternative treatments to help veterans deal with their physical and emotional symptoms that drive them to drink or use drugs in excess. These treatments include acupuncture, yoga and counseling.

In addition to treatment options specific to veterans, there are many regular drug treatment facilities open to anyone that are found throughout the country. While these may or may not offer specialized treatment for the specific problems veterans face, they can still give medical treatment, counseling and tools to overcome addiction. If you’d like help locating a rehab facility that can help you or a veteran in your life, contact us today.