Many veterans have gone through life-changing challenges during active military service. Although these veterans return home at the end of their service, some challenges continue years after. Substance abuse disorders and addictions that develop during or as a result of military service can burden veterans for years.
Addiction is much more common among veterans than among the general population due to multiple risk factors involved with military service. Here are a few of the most common causes of addiction among veterans.
PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder, and it occurs in people who have witnessed a traumatic event. While serving in the military, members of the armed forces are often put in dangerous and high-stress situations.
It’s estimated that around 87% of veterans are exposed to potentially traumatic events during their military service. When these experiences lead to PTSD, veterans are left with intense and disturbing thoughts, memories, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, and severe emotional distress.
PTSD greatly increases a person’s chance of developing a substance abuse disorder, especially when the individual with PTSD does not have access to sufficient mental health treatment and support. One study found that 46.4% of individuals with lifetime PTSD also have a substance abuse disorder. These disorders often develop as a way to cope with the symptoms of PTSD. While the use of substances can temporarily ease the symptoms of PTSD, overall symptoms can worsen.
While in active military service, many individuals experience painful injuries and require opioids to manage the pain. An estimated 66% of veterans experience some type of bone, muscle, or joint injury during their service. One 2017 study found that roughly 25% of active military personnel have at least one opioid prescription in a year.
Opioids are often necessary and useful in helping individuals manage severe pain, but the downside is they are also highly addictive. According to the CDC, as many as 1 in 4 patients receiving long-term opioid therapy develop an addiction.
Some veterans develop a dependence on opioids while taking them for pain, and it can be very difficult to break that dependence. Addiction to prescription opioids can also lead to the abuse of more addicting and life-threatening drugs like heroin when prescription opioids are unavailable.
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in veterans. In 2008, the VA estimated that about one-third of veterans visiting primary care clinics exhibited some symptoms of depression.
Depression is a significant risk factor for substance abuse. When an individual struggling with depression does not receive mental health treatment, substance abuse can become their main coping strategy.
Alcohol and many illicit substances flood your brain with dopamine, causing temporary feelings of pleasure. However, frequent use of these substances diminishes your brain’s ability to produce dopamine on its own, causing depression symptoms to worsen. This leads to a cycle of craving mind-altering substances even more.
Around 1.5 million veterans in America are either homeless or at-risk of homelessness. Physical injuries or mental illnesses developed during military service can put veterans at risk of poverty, which is one of the reasons veterans are 50% more likely than the general population to become homeless.
Homelessness can increase your risk of developing an addiction because the health and stability of a living environment is closely linked to your risk for addiction. Once an addiction forms, the harsh conditions of homeless living also make it more difficult to receive the support necessary for breaking that addiction. Because veterans are at a high risk of homelessness, this places them also at a higher risk of prolonged substance abuse and addiction.
Although veterans have many risk factors for developing addictions, there are also many supports available to help treat addictions and build a healthy life. If you struggle with an addiction, you do not have to overcome it on your own. There are places you can turn for help.
Treating mental health is essential for veterans working toward addiction recovery. Because so many veterans struggling with addiction also struggle with mental illnesses such as PTSD or depression, it’s essential to develop healthy coping mechanisms to replace substance abuse. Working with a therapist or other mental healthcare professional will allow you to manage mental illness during the path to recovery.
Many addictions have difficult withdrawal symptoms during the early stages of recovery. This makes these stages some of the most challenging to get through. A medical professional can help you through the withdrawal period and provide your body with the support it needs to begin healing.
Finding adequate and stable housing is an important part of breaking an addiction. Stable living environments help individuals who struggle with substance abuse achieve recovery and avoid relapsing. There are many resources for homeless veterans or veterans at risk of homelessness. The VA has programs that help find and maintain housing for veterans.
Connection with others who have had similar experiences is a powerful tool that has helped many people break their addictions and heal from trauma. Addiction recovery support groups and veteran support groups can help you find people who can relate to your challenges and encourage you to move forward. Support groups also offer you an opportunity to be a role model to others and share strategies that help you avoid substance abuse.
Addiction is easiest to treat when you have the proper support. For many people, that support includes spending time at an addiction treatment and recovery center. Addiction treatment centers provide both mental health and physical healthcare while helping you rebuild your life. Group and individual therapy are part of many addiction recovery centers.
Jackson House Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center has a treatment program specifically designed to meet the needs of veterans. The Jackson House team will help you build the tools to maintain lasting sobriety. Reach out to discuss your treatment options.