Veterans, PTSD, and Drug Abuse

U.S. veterans, the former servicemen and women of the United States Armed Forces, these brave men and women often face struggles that the majority of Americans do not have to face. Such struggles can be difficulties like depression, PTSD, major injuries, debilitating mental health problems, serious physical trauma, etc. A combination of the stresses and first-hand experiences of life in the armed forces and the difficulties in transitioning back to civilian life can make the day-to-day lives of veterans a special kind of challenge. Perhaps most prominent, veterans seem to experience PTSD and addiction more often than any other demographic does.

According to a direct quote from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a report which focused directly on PTSD and addiction:

  • “Some people try to cope with their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms by drinking heavily, using drugs, or smoking too much. People with PTSD have more problems with drugs and alcohol both before and after getting PTSD. Also, even if someone does not have a problem with alcohol before a traumatic event, getting PTSD increases the risk that he or she will develop a drinking or drug problem.”

Clearly, there is a lot of difficulties and struggle that veterans face when they struggle with PTSD. It couldn’t be more clear than it is now that this is a growing problem that we need to address.

According to a direct quote from the “Lifeline for Vets” group:

  • “Prescription drug abuse is on the rise among veterans because many are treated with powerful narcotic pain medications for injuries. Over time, veterans can become dependent on these drugs and eventually an addiction can develop. Alcohol abuse and addiction is also more common among the military population while some other substances are used far less frequently and are far less of an issue.”

Clearly, there is a lot of information on addiction and PTSD amongst veterans, but where are the solutions to these issues?

Poly-Drug Use a Major Factor Amongst Veterans

Veterans are also beginning to mix different drugs together and become “polydrug users,” all in an effort to address their PTSD and physical pain problems better. When veterans mix their opioid painkillers with other drugs, they pose a much greater risk of harming themselves than they do when they just take painkillers. Neither habit is in anyway “okay,” but those who mix multiple drugs together are putting themselves at even greater risk than those who take straight painkillers.

For example, NIDA researchers found that veterans who misuse painkillers with other opioids are also eight times more likely to use marijuana than just painkiller users are. Furthermore, veterans who mix opioids are also four times more likely to regularly get drunk on alcohol than those who only misuse opioid painkillers. Though mappable, the intricacies of substance abuse and mental health difficulties amongst veterans are quite complex, as so many different factors are always present.

Statistics for PTSD and Drug Misuse Amongst Veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs makes a point to record statistics on the various problems that veterans face. According to the VA’s reporting on the drug use and PTSD problem:

  • Research shows that two out of ten veterans who have PTSD also have a substance abuse problem.
  • When veterans with PTSD do drink, they often binge drink in an effort to cope with or mask the symptoms of their unique, depressive state.
  • Studies show that about one out of every three veterans who seek help for a substance abuse problem also tends to have a PTSD condition.
  • In the wars against both Iraq and Afghanistan, at least one out of ten returning soldiers developed a substance abuse problem shortly after returning from their respective tours of duty.

This is just a smattering of some of the statistics that the VA records, but it clearly shows that there is a direct relationship between addiction and PTSD amongst veterans. When we are attempting to help veterans with these types of problems, we have to remember to address both the addiction and the PTSD, as neither will likely diminish unless the other is also summarily addressed.

Helping Veterans Overcome the Struggles that They Face

We need to shift our focus on helping veterans who struggle with various mental and physical crisis away from a focus that directs attention on medication as being the primary “solution.” Veterans are already overmedicated as it is, and that needs to change. Veterans need counseling and therapy and holistic alternatives to their health. We can’t keep overmedicating veterans, as that often creates more problems instead of solving the problems that they were supposed to solve.

When veterans struggle with addiction, they need the help of addiction treatment centers, not just more medication through “medication-assisted therapy.” That usually just adds to the problem rather than helps to solve it. And when veterans struggle with PTSD, this is a very unique affliction, veteran to veteran. It needs to be individually assessed and counseled, not blanket-medicated. After extensive service and sacrifice to their country, veterans deserve the best care, not a uniform, one-size-fits-all approach.

Sources:

https://nvf.org/veteran-substance-abuse-statistics/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5587184/

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/problems/ptsd_substance_abuse_veterans.asp

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