Veterans with Addictions: Why Do They Turn to Alcohol and Drugs?

There are so many veterans with addictions in the United States, and this is a serious problem that many people don't understand.

Our country's veterans are facing so many different challenges, and for them, it often seems second nature to turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with their issues. In the U.S., we often tend to hold our veterans with the highest regard and in a way, we may even unknowingly see them as being immune to the problem of addiction. Because of everything they've been through, and because of the problems many of them face after their service to the country is over, they are actually much more prone to addiction than those in the civilian population.

The good news is that illegal drug use among veterans has declined over the years.

Unfortunately, the use of prescription drugs and alcohol among this population has increased steadily. There are a number of different factors that make veterans more susceptible to drug and alcohol addiction, and it's clear that this is a problem that has been ignored for far too long.

If you are an addicted vet, it's vital for you to know that you don't have to remain addicted. Getting professional help can provide you with the support you need to recover, although you might not know where you should turn for help. At Northpoint Recovery, we've been able to provide assistance to so many veterans who all struggled with addictions. These are individuals who thought all hope for them was lost, and they assumed that they would be destined to live lives of addiction forever. Of course, getting as much information about veterans and their addictions is so important for you because it will help you to understand your condition.

Veterans and Addiction

Addicted Veterans in the United States: A Look at the Statistics

It's common for veterans to believe that they are alone in their addictions. After all, drug and alcohol addiction is a very lonely condition. When you take a look at the statistics surrounding addictions in veterans, it's clear that this is certainly not an isolated problem. In fact, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) states that:

  • As many as 13% of returning veterans are currently suffering from addictions to alcohol and drugs.
  • Between 2001 and 2009, the number of prescriptions written by military doctors quadrupled.
  • That means that close to 3.8 million prescriptions for pain medications were written during that year.
  • The rate of prescription drug misuse was 11.7% for veterans, which was more than two and a have times what it was for civilians.
  • This problem is particularly serious for women who have served as veterans.
  • Veterans who are women are more likely than men to use illicit drugs.
  • Prescription drug abuse among women on active duty is more than four times the rate for civilian women.

As you can see, if you're battling an addiction to any type of substance, you're certainly not alone. Addiction among veterans is incredibly common, but because of this fact, it's also important for you to know that treatment among vets is also common. Getting help for your addiction is the best way for you to recover, and this is something that should never be attempted on your own. When you get professional support, you'll find that you have access to the type of help you need to experience the freedom you're looking for.

Reasons for Drug and Alcohol Abuse Among Veterans

There are a number of different reasons why someone who is a veteran might be more prone to using drugs or alcohol than a civilian. These reasons include:

  • Job Loss: For many veterans, once they return after their time in the service has ended, they may find that their position at their former place of employment has been eliminated, or that they have been replaced. Job loss causes a great deal of stress, and this stress can easily lead to an addiction.
  • Relationship Problems and/or Divorce: These are both very common among veterans, and divorce occurs for a number of different reasons. According to the Department for Veterans Affairs, about 38% of Vietnam vet marriages failed within six months of the veteran's return to the United States.
  • Financial Problems: For veterans who have lost jobs, or who are just trying to get re-acclimated to life outside of the service, financial problems pose a very real challenge for them. Financial issues can be extremely stressful, and they can easily lead to a dependence upon drugs or alcohol as a way to cope.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): There are so many veterans who are battling PTSD because of the various situations they've witnessed during active combat. However, PTSD often goes undiagnosed for a number of reasons, and it's common for vets to opt to self-medicate by using substances.
  • Physical Pain: Injuries among veterans are also very common, and for many, physical pain quickly becomes a part of their everyday lives. They take prescription pain medications as a way to cope with the pain, and for many of these medications, addiction is very likely if they are taken for a long period of time.

By far, the biggest issues for veterans are the physical pain and PTSD. These two conditions frequently leave to self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.

Veterans Addicted to Painkillers: Why are These Drugs so Popular?

For veterans, pain is a part of life for many of them. In fact, it might be more difficult to find a veteran who isn't taking some type of pain medication than it is to find one who is. Many veterans don't realize how addictive pain medications can be, and there are certainly those who become addicted to them without meaning to. The number of disabled veterans addicted to painkillers is certainly rising, and right now, there are about 650,000 veterans or members of the military who have been given opiate pain medications.

In the military, taking pain medication is often just a way of life. Veterans will often tell stories about how they came to obtain their pain meds while they were in active duty. Quite often, they didn't even come in a labeled bottle. Instead, they are given to soldiers in baggies, and they're not even sure what it was that they were taking. Military personnel quickly learn that pain medications are not only a way of life, but they are also a way to make it through the day. In some cases, they become dependent upon them for survival, and that dependence is something that doesn't cease when their time in the military comes to an end.

PTSD and Addicted Vets: Self-Medicating with Substances

PTSD is a disorder that frequently afflicts veterans because of the horrors they've seen during battle. This is often referred to as battle fatigue or shellshock. When veterans have witnessed warfare, or when they've lived through traumatic or startling events, it's not uncommon for mental health issues to arise, and this can even take place years after the events occurred. For women, there is an additional concern regarding PTSD because about 23% of them have reported being victims of sexual assault during the time they were in the military.

Many veterans who have PTSD don't realize that this disorder is what they're dealing with. That means that it often goes undiagnosed. They end up using drugs and alcohol because they need them to feel better. Perhaps this is something that you're dealing with as well, but you've never really thought too much about it. It's possible that you have been dealing with mental or emotional issues for many years, but it never dawned on you that it might be an actual mental health condition that you needed to get professional help for.

There are a number of different symptoms for PTSD that you can look for in your own life. This will give you some indication as to whether or not you may be struggling with this condition, and these include:

  • Feeling as though you have a very low sense of self-worth
  • Struggling within your relationships
  • Exhibiting self-destructive behaviors
  • Having problems with your memory
  • Frequent bouts of insomnia
  • Having problems with concentration
  • Experiencing flashbacks at times
  • Becoming aggressive on occasion
  • Feeling hopeless about your life

If you have ever felt any of the above, it's very likely that you have PTSD. Also, if you're using drugs or alcohol, it's very likely that you're doing so as a way to self-medicate your condition. Even though this is quite common, that doesn't mean that this is how you should continue to live your life. You can get professional help that will allow you to overcome your addiction and treat your PTSD at the same time.

Veterans with Co-Occurring Disorders: The Best Way to Treat Addictions

When a veteran has a co-occurring disorder, it means that the individual has an addiction, and also some other type of condition at the same time. Co-occurring disorders are common among veterans, and there are a number of different conditions that you could be suffering from alongside your addiction. These include:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • An anxiety disorder
  • A depressive disorder
  • An eating disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Schizophrenia

At one time, it was assumed that anyone who presented with both a psychiatric condition and an addiction should be treated for each condition on separate occasions. As a result, the addiction would be treated first. The individual would go through a detox, and then possibly some type of addiction rehab. After that was completed, treatment for the underlying mental health issue would begin. It was soon found that this method of treatment was not beneficial for the patient at all, and there was a good reason for that.

What was discovered was that many patients who received this type of treatment ended up relapsing back into substance abuse.

However, when the conditions were treated at the same time, patients seemed to have a much easier time with their recoveries. They were also much less likely to experience a relapse down the road.

Treatment for co-occurring disorders offers veterans a much better chance of being successful with their treatment. Most veterans have a number of different reasons for their addictions, and it's important for these to be addressed so that they have the best possible outcomes.

Barriers to Treatment for Veterans who are Addicted

Even though it is so important for veterans with addictions to get professional help as soon as possible, the fact remains that most of them do not. According to the United States Army only about 40% of veterans who have screened positive for substance abuse disorders and psychiatric conditions actually go on to get the help they need. That statistic doesn't even factor in those who are not getting screened but choose to hide the fact that they're struggling with addictions. It's really too bad that this is the case, but there are several barriers that veterans may perceive as being reasons why they don't get the treatment they need.

Some of these barriers include:

  • Issues with finding the right kind of treatment because of transportation or cost.
  • Not being aware of the type of care that is available for veterans.
  • Having the belief that they will get better on their own, without treatment.
  • Believing that addiction treatment is for others, and not necessarily for them.
  • The stigma surrounding professional treatment for addiction.

Of all of these barriers, the stigma that can go along with going to drug or alcohol rehab is probably the most common. There are so many negative labels associated with addiction treatment, and veterans may be afraid of these labels. They could also have a fear of being discriminated against if anyone found out they had sought professional help for an addiction.

Perhaps you can identify with one or more of these barriers because that is exactly how you have felt about getting professional treatment for an addiction. Please know that getting professional help is the best possible decision that you can make for yourself, and once you do, any reservations you might have had will quickly fade away.

Types of Drug and Alcohol Rehab for Veterans

As a veteran of the United States Military, it's important for you to know that you do have options when it comes to getting treated for a drug or alcohol addiction. Whereas you may have always thought that you needed to go through the VA for these types of services, that's not true at all. You can easily opt for a private rehab facility instead, and this will offer you a couple of benefits. Not only will you have a more private treatment experience, but you will also enjoy being a part of a smaller population of patients where you will get more attention.

There are a number of different options available for you, and these include:

  • Going through drug or alcohol detox. This method is recommended for many people who suffer from addictions, depending on the type of substance that is being used. Detoxification not only removes toxins from the body, but it also addresses the physical component of addiction that can be missed when patients immediately go to rehab.
  • Inpatient rehab is often recommended for most people who have addictions, and veterans will also benefit from this type of treatment as well. Inpatient stays are around 30 days in length, and they allow patients to participate in group therapy, personal counseling sessions and other types of treatment.
  • Long-term rehab might be something you would want to consider if your addiction is severe, and if it is determined that you need a longer length of stay. There are some residential rehab facilities that allow patients to stay for as long as six months, or even longer in many cases.
  • Outpatient treatment might be appropriate for you if your addiction is considered to be fairly new or mild, and this would involve meeting with a therapist on a regular basis.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment is similar to inpatient treatment, but patients are able to live at home while they get treatment. They may attend appointments several times through the week for several hours at a time.
  • 12 Step meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are often utilized by those who are getting outpatient treatment because they offer group support.

Paying for Substance Abuse Treatment: Veterans Have Options

As a veteran, you undoubtedly have health insurance, and if you don't, applying for it is very easy. It's quite common for veterans to have financial issues, and they usually think that in order to go to a private drug or alcohol rehab, they would have to pay for it out of their own pockets. This is not the case at all.

Your health insurance offers you benefits to help cover the costs of addiction treatment. This greatly minimizes any co-insurance or co-payment amounts on your part, and you might even find that your treatment is covered in full.

Alcohol and Drug Treatment for Retired Vets: Encouraging a Loved One to Get Help

Perhaps you have a loved one who is a retired vet, and you're concerned about his or her addiction. However, there doesn't seem to be much you can do to help your family member get the assistance that's needed for recovery. This is a common situation, but that doesn't mean you have to watch your loved one suffer.

In your case, you may want to consider scheduling an intervention. An intervention will give you a platform that you can use to talk with your loved one about the addiction and encourage him or her to get the necessary help. They have been so beneficial for so many people.

Help for Veterans with Addictions: Treatment at Northpoint Recovery

If you're a veteran and you're battling an addiction, please be assured that the issues you're facing right now are not yours alone. There are so many veterans in the United States who are struggling just as you are. These are all men and women who have served their country faithfully. They've given they're all, and now they're suffering as a result of that. At times, it may seem as though you'll never be able to recover, and the fact is that if you attempt to try and recover from an addiction on your own, you're likely to be unsuccessful. Not only that, you're putting yourself in danger because of the risks involved with various withdrawal symptoms, and you're very apt to experience a relapse back into your drug or alcohol use. You can protect yourself against that, and give yourself a much better chance of a successful recovery when you get professional treatment, and here at Northpoint Recovery, we would be honored to assist you with that.

It has been such a pleasure for us to work with a number of veterans here at Northpoint Recovery. We value the sacrifices they've made for our country, and assisting them with finding the healing they're looking for is so important to us.

If you're a veteran who has an addiction, you may be convinced that all hope is lost for you. You may be wondering where you can turn for help, and we can provide you with the services you need to recover from your addiction. While it can be a little bit scary to turn from your addiction, you'll find that making this choice is the best decision you could have made for yourself. It is so rewarding to know that your addiction is no longer ruling over your life, and we'd love to help you re-learn how to live without being dependent upon drugs or alcohol.

Are you an addicted vet in need of substance abuse treatment? Please contact us to learn how you can get started with recovery.