There are countless soldiers who put their lives on the line every day to keep us and this country safe. Unfortunately, due to a variety of factors surrounding the military, veterans are at a much greater risk of developing mental health and substance abuse issues when compared to the general population.
Primarily, this is due to the experience of military service and combat overseas. Trauma, stressors, and military culture as a whole can place veterans at significant risk of developing mental health disorders, such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), chronic pain, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and numerous other health problems that can influence substance use.
Just how big of a problem is substance abuse in the veteran community, and what are a few important statistics that people should keep in mind?
Important Statistics Related To Substance Abuse in the Veteran Community
Unfortunately, the rates of substance abuse among veterans are very high. For example, greater than one out of every ten veterans who visit the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been diagnosed with a substance use disorder (SUD).
In addition, binge drinking, alcoholism, and drug abuse are more common among veterans than they are among members of the average population. Veterans may decide to use alcohol, drugs, and elicit substances to cope with chronic pain, deal with mental health issues, or make it easier for them to adjust to civilian life.
Sadly, substance abuse issues have also been tied to a variety of other problems in the veteran community. For example, veterans who have a substance use disorder are at a greater risk of employment difficulties and homelessness. Substance abuse has also been tied to a greater risk of suicide.
A few other important statistics to keep in mind include:
- Approximately 80 percent of veterans who have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder abuse alcohol.
- More than a quarter of veterans with a substance use disorder abuse illicit drugs.
- About 7 percent of veterans with a substance use disorder will abuse both alcohol and drugs.
These statistics clearly indicate that something has to be done to provide veterans with the support they need. What are a few important points to keep in mind regarding veterans and substance abuse, and what more can be done to provide veterans with the support they require?
Why Are Veterans at a Greater Risk of Developing Substance Use Disorders?
Alcohol use, drug use (including opioid and illicit drug use), and mental health disorders are more common among veterans, including those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. What are some of the biggest reasons why active duty veterans are at a greater risk of developing mental health issues?
Some of the biggest reasons why vets and members of the military service are at a greater risk of developing mental health issues include:
Exposure To Combat
One of the first reasons why service members may be at a greater risk of developing substance abuse issues is exposure to combat. There is nothing quite like being exposed to combat, where people around you are dying. It is something that the average person cannot understand, and veterans have a difficult time coping with it as well.
When someone is exposed to combat, they can develop significant mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Working with specialized providers at treatment centers that have the tools necessary to help veterans can make a significant difference in someone’s overall prognosis.
Isolation From Friends and Family Members
It is not unusual for military personnel and military veterans to be away from their family members and friends for an extended amount of time. For example, some soldiers may go a year without seeing their loved ones. This type of isolation can be difficult, and it can increase the chances of someone developing mental health disorders.
For example, mental illness stemming from isolation can result in depression. Depression can make it difficult for someone to do their job not only on the front lines but also back home. Isolation is difficult, and it is important for veterans to get the care they need.
Physical Health Problems
Soldiers can also be at a greater risk of developing physical health conditions as a result of their time serving overseas. Soldiers who are wounded are at a greater risk of developing chronic pain, and it can be difficult to manage this pain using prescription medications and therapy. Some soldiers have to live with chronic pain for the rest of their lives, and it can be difficult to cope with.
If physical therapy and prescription medications are not enough, veterans may develop an opioid use disorder, which can lead to dangerous side effects. Substance abuse treatment is available for veterans who are addicted to painkillers, and it is critical to find a specialized treatment program that can help veterans address drug addiction.
Problems Adjusting Back Home
There are also a lot of veterans who have a difficult time adjusting to life back home. When soldiers are discharged from the military, they frequently have to find another job once they return to the United States.
Unfortunately, veterans often feel out of place and civilian life, and it can make it difficult for them to find employment. Some veterans have a hard time coping with this, and they could be prone to alcohol abuse. There are different treatment options available for alcohol use disorder, and it is important for veterans to reach out to a behavioral health specialist who can provide them with the care they need.
The Signs of Mental Health Issues Among Veterans
The first step in helping veterans get the care they need is to identify the signs of a significant mental health issue. Some of the signs that veterans may have a mental health issue that must be addressed include:
- Some veterans may have a difficult time falling asleep and staying asleep at night. This could cause them to feel tired the next day.
- Veterans might complain that they are having flashbacks to a traumatic experience that they had while they were serving overseas.
- Family members might be saying that they are having a difficult time resuming the relationship that they once had with their loved ones.
- Veterans might go to great lengths to conceal the true nature of their alcohol or drug use.
- Some veterans may also suffer significant changes in their appetites because of their mental health issues.
- Veterans with mental health issues might also be prone to bouts of emotional instability, lashing out at people around them without reason.
These are a few signs that veterans may have a mental health issue that needs to be addressed, and that means reaching out to a trained professional who can provide veterans with the care they require.
Treatment Options for Veterans With Mental Health Issues
Even though it is sad that mental health issues are common among veterans, the good news is that there are multiple treatment options available. Some of the treatments that could be beneficial include:
Often, veterans will start their journey in an inpatient facility. The first step is to remove all traces of drugs and alcohol from the body, and that is where detox can be beneficial. Detox can lead to a variety of withdrawal symptoms, and it is always beneficial to go through this process under the supervision of a medical professional.
Inpatient mental health treatment that focuses on military life can help veterans build the skills they need to not only get sober but also stay sober.
Group therapy can also be beneficial for veterans who are trying to recover from mental health issues and addiction concerns.
Veterans often feel out of place when they return to civilian life, but in group therapy, veterans can hear from the experiences of others, and they can listen to the stories of individuals who have struggled with substance abuse issues in the past and can manage them successfully today.
That is why the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs often recommends group therapy for dealing with traumatic events.
Outpatient Treatment is also important for a number of veterans. Outpatient treatment and behavioral therapy often take place in a one-on-one setting, and it provides veterans with an opportunity to open up while customizing their treatment plans to meet their needs. For example, prescription drug abuse has a remarkable presence among veterans, but medication-assisted treatment can help veterans address substance abuse and mental health services.
Many active-duty military members and veterans go through a combination of the treatments above, so if you are having a difficult time addressing mental health issues following combat exposure, reach out to an expert who can help you.
Contact Riverside Recovery for Help With Mental Health and Substance Abuse Among Veterans
Active-duty service members and veterans deserve to have access to comprehensive mental health treatment. We are Riverside Recovery of Tampa, and our experts are available to help veterans who are having issues with mental health and substance abuse concerns, particularly those related to prescription opioid pain relievers.
Contact us today to speak to a member of our admissions team, and let us help you with the recovery process.