Statistics on substance abuse show high numbers. Yet, the figures for veterans and substance abuse show higher statistics and these numbers continue to grow. This begs the question of, “Veterans and substance abuse. Why is it so prevalent?”
PTSD and Substance Abuse
One of the major factors in the reason why many veterans have substance abuse issues is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
According to Veteran’s Affairs:
27% of Veterans in VA care diagnosed with PTSD also have Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Almost 1/3 of Veterans seeking treatment for SUD also have PTSD and more than a quarter of Veterans with PTSD also have SUD.
Substance abuse encompasses more than street drugs. Prescription drugs show prevalence in statistics on veterans. Some of this is due to being treated for injuries or legitimate needs. Strong narcotics tap into dependency issues, which leads to substance abuse for some.
To understand the correlation between PTSD and substance abuse, one must understand about PTSD. Posttraumatic stress disorder is exposure to traumatic events outside the normal realm. This psychological condition affects people from all walks of life. The problem is that PTSD is not always visible.
There are three coping mechanisms with PTSD. These include re-experiencing, hyperarousal, and numbing or avoidance. Some substances help with these coping mechanisms.
It is important to note that both need treatment to be effective in recovery. Simply treating substance abuse without treating the underlying issue of PTSD is not conducive to full recovery.
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Statistics On Substance Abuse and Veterans
One of the ways to quantify the amount of substance abuse in veterans is by real statistics.
For example, a study by the NCBI showcases the following:
- From 2001 to 2009, the percent of veterans in the VA health care system receiving an opioid prescription increased from 17 percent to 24 percent
- The number of prescriptions written for pain medication by military physicians has more than quadrupled
- From 2003 to 2007, chronic opioid use (i.e., 6 months or longer) among young veterans in the VA health care system increased from 3.0 percent to 4.5 percent
- On average, patients had prescriptions for two different opioids and had three different prescribers
- Of these opioid prescriptions, the majority were for oxycodone (46.9 percent), hydrocodone (39.5 percent), or codeine (6.8 percent)
- Mental health diagnoses increase the likelihood of receiving an opioid prescription
- Specifically, veterans with a diagnosis of PTSD (17.8 percent) or another mental health disorder (11.7 percent) were more likely to receive an opioid prescription than those without mental health diagnoses (6.5 percent)
Why Is Substance Abuse So Common?
There is a myriad of reasons why substance abuse is so common in veterans. One reason is veterans dealing with traumatic experiences. Whether it is due to combat or wartime, the scars are psychological as well as physical. In fact, non-combat deployment affects veterans as well as combat deployment.
In another study, there is a direct link between substance abuse, depression, and even suicide and veterans. This may be a direct correlation to past trauma as mentioned.
Another area that explains the prevalence of substance abuse is as simple as medication for pain. Everything from injuries, severe headaches, and other pains are often treated with narcotics.
These narcotics are highly addictive, which starts the substance abuse cycle. This is because opioids affect the areas of the brain where we get pleasure. These transmitters in the brain are endorphins. What opioids do is trigger these transmitters and create a sense of calm and well-being. Once that wears off, the person using the opioid often wants more in order to experience the same feeling. This leads to taking more repeatedly, which can lead to addiction.
Signs of Substance Abuse
The signs of substance abuse vary depending on the individual. Yet, these common symptoms are typical indicators of a substance abuse problem:
- Using more over time
- A strong desire for the substance
- A higher tolerance level
- Inability to control usage
- Withdrawal symptoms (muscle aches, vomiting, insomnia, etc)
The knowledge today of opioids being highly addictive means less are prescribed. Yet, some people become addicted and seek other means of supplying their need.
The important thing is to recognize when addiction starts. It may be as simple as noticing you take more medication to feel the same effects. For others, it may be feeling that the drug has importance over other activities.
Treatments Available for Veterans
Treatment is possible for veterans living with PTSD and substance abuse issues. While there is no single fix-all treatment, there is a variety of treatment options that have great success.
The first part of treatment is detoxification. This important component of treatment rids the body of its unhealthy substances. From there, there is a variety of treatment options such as:
- Holistic nutrition with dieticians, natural supplement protocol and chiropractic services
- Individual Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Anxiety management
- Stress management
- EMDR trauma therapy
- Trauma management and resolution
- Psychological trauma substance abuse disorder treatment
- Relaxation and meditation therapy
- Suicide awareness and prevention
- Anger management
- Rebuilding family relationships
- Grief and loss healing
None of these treatment options are the sum of all. Instead, each is a specific component helping change your life. For example, not everyone may need grief and loss healing. But for those who do, they find it available.
At Transformation Treatment Center, we provide a place where the men and women who have served our country can find serenity and healing.