Addiction In Veterans
Veterans of the armed forces are not immune to the substance use disorders that may affect the general public. Although illicit drug use is lower among U.S. military personnel compared to civilians, heavy alcohol and prescription drug abuse is more prevalent among veterans.
The stress associated with deployment during wartime and the unique culture within the military may account for some of these differences. Multiple deployments and combat exposure can increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder.
If drug and alcohol issues are not addressed as they develop, they can become full blown addictions. As awareness of veterans addiction treatment needs grows, the number of resources to help also increases. There are various drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs available for U.S. veterans, including government-funded and private rehab programs.
Government-Funded Drug And Alcohol Rehab Programs (Veteran’s Affairs)
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) offers a range of options for individual veterans seeking treatment for their substance use issues. These options may include individual or group therapies and medically-assisted alcohol or drug treatment.
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The VA can provide these services to eligible veterans, no matter where they choose to get treatment, as long as the rehab program is a VA provider. These can be facilities such as VA nursing homes, residential care treatment centers, and VA medical centers (VAMC).
To be considered eligible for VA benefits, veterans must be enrolled in the VA healthcare system and cannot be dishonorably discharged. However, someone who has been dishonorably discharged may still qualify for VA benefits, depending on the determination made by the VA.
VA drug and alcohol rehab programs may consist of following types of care:
- first-time screening for alcohol or tobacco use in all care locations
- short outpatient counseling, including focus on motivation
- intensive outpatient treatment
- residential (inpatient) care
- medically-managed detoxification and other stabilizing services
- continuing care and relapse prevention
- marriage and family counseling
- self-help groups
- drug maintenance therapies and newer medicines to reduce craving
The VA may also provide programs that assist particular groups, including women, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)/Operation New Dawn (OND) veterans, and homeless individuals.
The decision as to which services will be provided is determined by how intense an individual’s addiction is, as well as their needs and desires. It is best to contact a local VA center or the VA Mental Health department for more information regarding VA benefits.
Private Drug And Alcohol Rehab Programs For U.S. Veterans
Some veterans may choose to seek drug and alcohol rehabilitation through a private treatment facility. This is a very personal choice and the benefits of this type of treatment should be weighed against what is best for the individual.
Private addiction treatment may offer treatment types that the VA does not, such as adventure or recreational therapies that can aid in the recovery process. Private facilities may also provide a new environment and expose veterans to civilians who are going through similar situations. This exposure may help veterans during their recovery, if they have been struggling to re-adjust to a civilian life, by making civilians more relatable.
One factor that may keep veterans from pursuing private treatment is the increased cost, compared to treatment through the VA. It may be possible for military health care benefits (TRICARE) to be applied toward the payment of treatment with an additional copay. Private health insurance can also be used in addition to VA benefits to supplement paying for rehabilitation and recovery. Specific facilities may offer discounts or scholarships to military veterans or those demonstrating financial need as well.
Drug And Alcohol Use Disorders Among Veterans
According to a 2008 survey, 2.3 percent of military personnel used illicit drugs in the past month, compared to 12 percent of civilians who used. The Department of Defense believes that this is due to a zero-tolerance drug policy that is regularly enforced with frequent, random drug screenings, followed by a dishonorable discharge, or possibly criminal prosecution, for a positive drug test.
The rate of prescription drug abuse of military members, on the other hand, was found to be higher than among civilians and is increasing. About 11 percent of service members reported misusing prescription drugs—mostly opioid pain medications, in the past month.
Alcohol use is also higher among individuals in military service than among civilians. In 2008, almost half (47 percent) of service members reported binge drinking every week in the past month.
These negative abuse patterns may continue or possibly worsen when someone transitions from an active duty service member to veteran status. Early intervention and preventative measures can help ensure that veterans don’t let these unresolved issues fester.
Opioid Use Disorders In Veterans
Chronic pain is a problem for many veterans due to injuries during their time in the service. Opioid pain medications are often prescribed to address this issue. Prescription rates for opioids drastically increased among veterans in the early 2000s.
The most common opioids prescribed to veterans are oxycodone (Oxycontin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco). While legal, these drugs have a high potential for abuse and addiction.
Many veterans experience mental issues in addition to physical pain, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Veterans with mental disorders may be prescribed opioid medications to deal with symptoms resulting from trauma. In fact, a veteran with an existing mental disorder is more likely to be prescribed opioid pain medication, sometimes more than one kind.
A major problem with this is that a person with mental issues has a higher risk of developing an opioid use disorder when taking opioid medication. As a result, the high rate of mental disorders that plague veterans may lead to an even higher occurrence of opioid misuse.
There are also additional resources that veterans may utilize if they are having a hard time adjusting to civilian life, which can greatly impact the severity of drug and alcohol addictions.
Army veterans may find additional help adjusting to life after military service through organizations, such as the Women’s Army Corps Veterans’ Association, the Disabled American Veterans Association, and the National Guard Association of the United States.
Although these organizations do not specifically sponsor drug or alcohol addiction treatment, they may offer additional peer-support to veterans.
Marine veterans may find additional assistance through the Marine Corps Community Services’ (MCCS) Substance Abuse Program. This program provides both inpatient and outpatient rehab programs for specifically for Marines.
Navy veterans may find rehab programs that specialize in military personnel through any VA provider. These facilities can offer support that can focus on counseling for PTSD, medication-assisted therapy, and military-based support groups.
Mental Illness And Addiction: Treating Co-Occurring Disorders In U.S. Veterans
Mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are often underlying triggers for substance abuse in veterans. This chronic condition can cause flashbacks to traumatic events, disturbances in sleep, overall restlessness, depression, anxiety and irritability.
One in four veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan reported symptoms of a mental disorder and one in six reported symptoms of PTSD, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Young adult veterans (18 to 25 years old) are more likely to develop a substance use disorder or other mental health issues.
According to a 2004 to 2006 report, a fourth of 18- to 25-year-old veterans met the criteria for a substance use disorder. This is double the rate of veterans 26 to 54 and five times the rate of veterans 55 and older.
The effects of substance abuse may also influence someone’s mood, and increase their risk of suicide. The Army Suicide Prevention Task Force found that 29 percent of Army suicides in 2009 involved alcohol or drug use, and about a third of them involved prescription drugs.
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For Veteran’s suffering from both mental health and substance abuse issues, it is important that they find an inpatient dual diagnosis program.
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Reaching out for help isn’t easy, especially for veterans who have been trained to display strength and bravery under the worst of circumstances. The act of reaching out for help for a drug or alcohol addiction takes a lot of strength and bravery in itself.
Dealing with the aftermath of a psychological trauma is not something that can be done overnight. Some veterans may benefit from an inpatient treatment program that focuses on how to best manage these psychological symptoms in day-to-day life.
For more information on drug and alcohol rehab programs for U.S. veterans, contact us today.