11 Nov 2014
Veterans Day is a time to remember and celebrate the people who have made sacrifices to serve in the military. If you have a veteran in your life, you know the toll that service can take. Mental health issues, including substance abuse, are common among men and women who have seen combat overseas. We should all recognize this struggle and be more aware of the issue. With awareness comes understanding, compassion and real change.
Facts About Veterans And Substance Abuse
1. Prescription Abuse Among Vets On The Rise
Use of illicit drugs by active military personnel is quite low. Compared to civilians, men and women in the military rarely use illegal drugs because of strict policies and enforcement by random drug testing.
On the other hand, prescription drug abuse is a real problem for both active duty military personnel and veterans. The rate of misuse of prescriptions increased from 2 percent in 2002 to 4 percent in 2005 and 11 percent in 2008.
2. Veterans Have A Drinking Problem
Alcohol may be legal, but it is a substance of abuse for many people and veterans are no exception. The Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center says that one in eight troops get streatment for alcohol abuse after returning from overseas deployment. While women are not immune from the problem of drinking, men are the ones who are really struggling. Twenty three percent of male veterans binge drink, compared to 14 percent of female veterans.
3. Substance Abuse And Veteran Suicides
For most of modern military history, suicide rates have been lower for troops and veterans than for civilians. Starting in 2004, though, the incidents of suicide in the military have been rising. In 2008, the rate of suicides in the military surpassed the rate among civilians. Substance abuse is often involved in cases of suicides. According to the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force, one-third of suicides included abuse of prescription drugs.
4. PTSD Is Linked to Substance Abuse
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a common mental health issue for veterans. The experiences of combat haunt military personnel — some develop the flashbacks, panic attacks, nightmares and other symptoms that characterize PTSD. Many turn to drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. Nearly a quarter of veterans with PTSD will also develop a substance abuse problem, and one-third of those seeking treatment for substance abuse also have PTSD.
5. Treatment Is Available For Vets
If you are a veteran and you struggle with drug or alcohol use, or you care about a vet who is having a problem, know that help is available. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers several services for vets, including screening and diagnosis. This first step can even be done anonymously. The veteran can then decide to take steps to get treatment. Options for treatment are varied and include therapy, couples and family counseling, support groups, care for a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse, and medication. The VA offers residential treatment as well as outpatient care and continuing care.
Substance abuse is a common problem among veterans because of the experiences of active duty. Mental health care is crucial to these important people and they deserve to have the best treatment modern medicine can offer.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with drinking, drugs or mental illnesses like PTSD, contact the VA and find out how to get access to treatment. It could save the life of the vet you love.