Veteran drug abuse is a growing problem. When military men and women return from action and suffer from battlefield trauma, drug abuse becomes more common. For those struggling with physical injuries and terrible war memories, drugs and alcohol can seem like a way out. How can family members and relatives help soldiers and women overcome drug abuse?
A malicious scenario
There is no doubt that military service is honorable and worthy of respect. The service can be traumatic for those who sign up, with physical damage and disruptive memories becoming the norm for service members. When soldiers return home from duty, they often carry physical, psychological, and even spiritual scars.
Difficulties on duty often become too severe, causing retired or active military personnel to turn to alcohol or drugs as coping mechanisms. In addition, the abuse of prescription drugs among military personnel is increasing. This is because prescription drugs are often offered as a "solution" to physical pain from war injuries.
The decision to experiment with a substance or treat yourself can quickly become a debilitating, seemingly unbreakable habit. That is why it is so important that veterans' family members help their relatives find appropriate treatment.
The crisis combines with suicide
The problem of addiction among service members and veterans is an urgent crisis that we must address. Several studies show a link between drug abuse and suicide among veterans. In a study involving around 600 veterans stationed in either Afghanistan or Iraq, 39% said they had used alcohol and 3% said they had used drugs. Taken together, that's almost half of all veterans involved in the study.
A second study examined a much larger group of employees on active duty. This study included approximately 675,000 active duty members. According to this study, the rate of drug abuse among service members has increased dramatically.
Unfortunately, the same study also found that suicide rates for both active and experienced service members have increased dramatically. Most often, drug abuse is a factor in such suicides.
At this point, approximately 1.5 million veterans are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or a combination of both.
Obstacles to seeking help
Unfortunately, veterans also have some unique obstacles in their search for help. As warriors and men of the action (or women of the action), they often feel that they cannot get help that they have to overcome their own crisis. They often feel that they cannot show weakness, that they should be able to overcome their habits and trauma themselves.
There is a strong stigma against speaking openly about mental health problems or trauma within military culture. A combination of military culture and a zero tolerance drug policy has led to this. Half of the military personnel reported that they felt that they were looking for help with mental health problems, which would have a negative impact on their military careers.
A combination of zero tolerance policies, a hard life (physically and mentally) and a stigma against seeking help has resulted in one in ten military personnel struggling with drug abuse.
Another factor is the role of a veteran in his family and at home. If a soldier or a military woman comes home from duty or duty and immediately starts a career, receives training, or runs a household, they may not feel they have the time or the bare essentials to seek help for a drug abuse habit. The problem with this mindset is that sooner or later, a veteran's addiction will affect his career, education, family, etc.
What can loved ones do to help?
Military men and women are at increased risk of developing drug problems. Years of service, number of missions and increasing injuries and traumatic events increase the risk of substance abuse. If someone you care about is on duty or serving in the military and struggling with a drug problem, the goal must be to get help as soon as possible.
Each branch of the military offers its own drug abuse program. Unfortunately, such programs don't always get to the bottom of what's really needed to help a service member or veteran overcome their addiction.
If your relative has already tried one of these programs and has been unsuccessful, he or she may be even more suspicious of looking for effective treatment options. However, you should not allow past, failed efforts by your loved one to get clean to prevent them from seeking help in a qualified, long-term center.
As previously mentioned, veterans and active duty members often face multiple crises. You may face physical injuries, psychological and emotional trauma, a spiritual crisis and addiction, all of which are combined in one. This cannot be adequately addressed with a few brief meetings or a short stay in an outpatient center.
To really help our veterans and military, we need to give them the help they need. We need to make sure that our active and retired military personnel have access to long-term home care. Long-term treatment centers offer the safest and most effective means of overcoming an addictive struggle.
Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICCADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP