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Overview of Veterans Addiction & Alcoholism Guide

The United States is in the middle of a drug crisis, one of the most affected groups are our veterans. Veteran substance abuse and alcoholism rates continues to be a growing problem throughout the country. Military members from all branches are returning from deployment suffering from a variety of physical/mental health problems and disabilities due to what had happened while they were deployed. This has caused substance abuse and alcohol abuse disorder rates among veterans to become more prevalent.

15% Of veterans suffer from PTSD
11% Of service members reported misusing prescription drugs
27% Of soldiers returning from combat abuse of alcohol upon return

Nothing about war has changed; it is still a dark, highly emotional and devastating thing for anyone to experience. With advancements in modern medicine and as we understand the human brain more the long-term emotional impact of war is more evident. Veterans are coming home with severe trauma and emotional issues. This damage is caused by combat and experiences overseas, much of which people who never served in our armed forces could ever imagine. A great toll has been had on our service members.

PTSD Among Veterans

A large amount of Veterans, especially those who are returning from overseas combat suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is increasingly common to find these soldiers who suffer from PTSD to try and self-medicate their symptoms away. They do this by drinking in excess and using drugs. PTSD can also lead to other mental health issues including depression and anxiety. Those who struggle with PTSD have much higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse than those who do not. Prior to having PTSD, they may have never had any issues with these substances. Once that traumatic event or events occurred and they developed this mental health disorder their risk of developing a drinking or drug problem increases significantly.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can be diagnosed once someone has experienced symptoms for at least one month after a traumatic event. Symptoms are not always noticeable within the first month, they may not appear until several months and sometimes even years later. This mental health disorder is characterized by three main symptoms:

Most Commonly Abused Substances Among Veterans

Benzos, like Xanax, Klonopin and Ativan are commonly prescribed to help those struggling with anxiety and panic disorders; both of which are very common among veterans. These pills can also be used to help with insomnia and can decrease the symptoms associated with PTSD. Benzos have become very popular among veterans. They can be easily obtained by returning soldiers and personnel, especially if they experienced combat while enlisted.

It is quite easy to become physically and mentally hooked on benzos, even if they were prescribed by a doctor. Consumption of these pills will eventually become routine; take one pill by mouth every 6 hours - sounds easy enough. As time passes tolerance will rise and physical dependence can set in. Once someone becomes physically dependent on these pills they will have extreme difficulties quitting without professional help.

Getting off these medications is very painful and is potentially life-threatening. Benzos work by interacting the neurotransmitters in the brain. They increasingly affect the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA receptors). As a result, the brain stops will stop its natural production of GABA receptors stimulants. The abuse of these pills will confuse the rain. It starts to think that it no longer needs to produce certain chemicals since the benzos have been doing it. When someone stops using benzodiazepines the brain and the body will thirst for them and consequently revolt. A series of painful mental and physical withdrawal symptoms will be triggered which can last 10+ days.

How Common is Substance Abuse Disorder Among Veterans?

There have been multiple studies conducted that show a strong correlation between PTSD and SUD (substance abuse disorder). More than 25% of veterans who suffer from PTSD also have SUD. This number is far higher for war veterans. A large portion who struggle with PTSD and alcohol/drug problems tend to binge use these substances. Binge using refers to when one uses a large amount of that substance over a short period of time. Binging can easily lead to daily use/abuse which will eventually lead to full dependence.

It is common for veterans to abuse substances as a response to memories of what they experienced while enlisted. This is even more common for those who spent time in combat. Nearly 33% of Veterans seeking treatment for substance abuse disorder also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Cigarettes and nicotine addiction rates are extremely high among this group. Veterans who smoke or use nicotine is almost double for those with PTSD, about 60%, versus those without a PTSD diagnosis about 27%. In the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, almost 20% of returning soldiers have a problem with alcohol or other drugs as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.

No one who is physically and mentally dependent on drugs or alcohol should ever attempt to stop using without professional help.

No one who is physically and mentally dependent on drugs or alcohol should ever attempt to stop using without professional help. The physical and mental withdrawals associated with substance abuse and alcohol abuse disorder are extremely painful. Not only will these drugs take a physical and mental toll on the person struggling, but the detox from some substances can also be life-threatening.

Chances of comfortably and successfully overcoming withdrawals without professional help are minimal. It is imperative that one is under direct medical supervision throughout the detox process. Detox is the first step toward overcoming substance dependency, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Any veteran who is struggling with drugs and/or alcohol should seek a higher level of care upon the completion of detox.

A 30+ day treatment center is always suggested, primarily one that has a trauma track and offers a dual diagnosis level of care. Drug and alcohol abuse are the surface issues that everyone can see, but the underlying mental health issues must be addressed. If issues depression, PTSD, anxiety and bipolar disorder remain untouched the chance of that person staying clean and sober will decrease significantly.

When someone is at an inpatient program they will have a treatment plan built around their specific needs. A veteran with substance abuse issues will not need the same care as a 20-year-old struggling with heroin addiction. Everyone has a different story and will need the proper care to ensure the highest chance of achieving long-term success. Clients will have one on one sessions with their primary therapist, group sessions and specific courses for their primary needs. EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) and cognitive behavioral therapy have proven to help those who suffer from PTSD.

Prescription Painkiller Abuse Among Veterans

Veterans who experienced injuries while deployed are commonly prescribed prescription painkillers, like Vicodin and Percocet. This has caused prescription drug abuse to rise among veterans. When these pills are used short term and on an as-needed basis they can be very helpful. Sadly, a lot of veterans will be on these pills for an extended period of time. One can easily become dependent on these drugs, building a tolerance as time goes on. As their tolerance rises they will need more and more of the same drug to produce the same effect. This can easily lead to full-on addiction.

When someone becomes physically and mentally addicted to these pills it will be very difficult to stop using without professional help. The withdrawal symptoms associated with prescription painkillers are just as severe as heroin. Intense physical pain coupled with mental anguish can last for over a week.

Warning Signs of Addiction/Alcoholism

  • Financial issues
  • Legal problems
  • Change in appearance
  • Recent extreme weight loss
  • Mood swings
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Loss of job/problems at work
  • Constant lying and manipulating

How to Find the Right Treatment Center for Veterans?

When trying to find the right treatment center for veterans there are certain things to keep an eye out for. As mentioned prior, dual diagnosis therapy is essential for any veteran. There are certain accreditations will help identify which treatment centers offer up the highest level of care. The Joint Commission is a nonprofit agency that puts their seal of approval on less than 15% of treatment centers. Try to keep an eye out for their gold stamp (JCAHO) on treatment websites and pamphlets.

If you or someone you care about are a veteran and are struggling with addiction or alcoholism reach out to your local VA for information on treatment centers that may be covered by their VA insurance. Sometimes you will continue to hit walls and might have some issues finding a detox center or a treatment center with an available bed or a short waiting list. Add to that one that meets your specific needs and you can find yourself fighting an uphill battle.

If you would like additional help finding a treatment center for veterans or want more information contact our toll-free line today. An addiction professional is standing by ready to help you through this difficult time in every way they can. Whether you are just looking for basic information or would like a referral to a detox center or treatment center in your area, they can help. Calls are always free of charge and completely confidential.

How Common is Substance Abuse Disorder Among Veterans?

Over the past 50 years, alcoholism has become a primary concern for returning military personnel. Current and former military face an array of challenges while enlisted. Even though days are extremely scheduled and a high standard is held there are a lot of unknowns. Unpredictable deployments, a high risk of injury and being away from home for long periods of time will all take their toll. It isn’t rare for alcohol to be used as a coping mechanism during these difficult times.

The military has zero tolerance policy for drugs, but alcohol is a bit different. Even though the military doesn’t approve of consuming alcohol while enlisted, it is very common. Abuse rates rise when our soldiers are overseas and in potential combat situations. Some may drink to quiet their racing minds while others will consume alcohol to pass the time.

Alcohol is commonly used by military personnel to help mask the triggers of trauma or and to help store away terrifying memories.

Alcohol is commonly used by military personnel to help mask the triggers of trauma or and to help store away terrifying memories. If one is to frequently binge drink they can rewire their brain. They will build up their tolerance and increase their dependence on the bottle as time progresses. Consuming alcohol will also affect the symptoms associated with PTSD. Not only can it prolong PTSD symptoms, but it can also make them more intense.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Excessive drinking can exacerbate mental health symptoms like anxiety, depression and insomnia. When ethanol is digested by the body it will it lower serotonin and norepinephrine levels. Serotonin is a chemical which affects one’s mood, appetite, memory and sleep. It will also affect norepinephrine. This is a stress hormone that tells the body how to react to different situations and events throughout the day.

Alcohol abuse will lead to lowered levels of both these chemicals. When someone has lowered serotonin and norepinephrine levels they are at a much higher risk of suffering from depression. Any veterans who suffer from mental health issues will make their mental state worse if they consume alcohol in excess. This can easily increase the risk of them partaking in self-harm or experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideations.

  • Re-experiencing the trauma through intense and highly intrusive flashbacks of the event. This can include nightmares and auditory hallucinations.
  • Emotional disconnection with their old life. One can start to avoid places, people, and activities that they used to enjoy. Especially if those things remind them of the trauma.
  • Issues sleeping and concentrating. One can become experience mood swings, have suicidal ideations. They can also become increasingly jumpy and become easily irritated and angered.