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Drug Abuse in Veterans: Causes and Effects

The difficulties of serving your country in the military don’t end simply because you’re discharged. The effects of stress, trauma, injuries, and other negative outcomes can follow a person for life. This partially explains the issue America currently faces with drug abuse in veterans. But while addiction is a persistent enemy, victory in the battle is achievable.

As every good soldier learned, you must know your enemy in order to defeat it. The following guide will explain both the causes and effects of drug abuse in veterans. This knowledge can give you an advantage in the fight. And if you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, your next step is to reach out for help.

Contact Transformations at Mending Fences today to learn everything we can offer to help you overcome this conflict.

Causes of Drug Abuse in Veterans

Although the military has a zero tolerance policy against illicit drug use, this doesn’t mean serving isn’t a direct cause of substance abuse disorder among veterans. Statistics show that reported rates of drug abuse increase once personnel transition out of active duty. While marijuana is the most common drug, more than 10% of veterans entering substance abuse programs do so for heroin addiction treatment.

The zero tolerance policy in the armed forces explains why rates of illicit drug use are higher after discharge, but it doesn’t explain the underlying causes of drug abuse in veterans. While causation can vary significantly between vets, it typically comes down to coping with some form of pain. The following are the most common predictors of veteran drug use:

  • Experiencing trauma:
  • Witnessing death firsthand.
  • Military sexual trauma (MST).
  • Near-death experiences.
  • Deployment to combat zones.
  • Depression and mood disorders.
  • Difficulty reintegrating to civilian life.
  • Development of anxiety disorder.
  • Traumatic brain injuries.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Drug abuse in veterans often emerges as a common co-occurring disorder. In fact, around half of individuals with PTSD also meet the criteria for substance abuse disorder. When looking at Vietnam veterans, this number balloons to 74%. Unfortunately, many soldiers see mental illness as weakness. Because of this, they often self-medicate. Once they’re out of the service, there’s nothing to stop them from drug use.

Of course, not all drug abuse in veterans stems from mental health issues. Some service members receive prescription medications due to injuries sustained in the military. In the Army alone, there are 2,500 reported injuries yearly for every 1,000 soldiers. Two-thirds of veterans also report experiencing pain.

Using pain pills to deal with service injuries is a slippery slope, and far too often, it eventually leads to substance abuse. Regardless of your specific addiction or the underlying cause, reach out to Transformations at Mending Fences today so we can help.

Effects of Drug Abuse in Veterans

Statistics show illicit drug use is common among former active duty military. The effects of this scourge are well-documented in America. A recent spike in opioid overdose deaths among veterans resulted in the military taking a more active role in combating drug use. The potential for overdose, though, is far from the only effect of drug abuse in veterans.

Even if you’ve not experienced these issues due to drug use, they serve as evidence that substance abuse can ruin veterans’ lives:

  • Marriages involving combat veterans have a 62% higher chance of failing.
  • Drug problems are linked to an increased risk of suicide among veterans.
  • Substance abuse increases the risk of depression and PTSD.
  • Illicit drug use increases the risk of domestic violence among veterans.
  • Co-occurring PTSD and drug use cause an increased risk of HIV, bipolar disorder, liver disease, and schizophrenia.
  • Among homeless veterans, 70% have a substance abuse disorder.

Drug abuse in veterans is a very visible problem, but many of the effects of this tragedy go unnoticed. Rarely do people recognize heightened divorce rates among vets, and many believe increased suicide risk only affects those who went through combat. In reality, substance abuse plays a significant role in nearly every hardship faced by veterans.

You don’t have to allow drugs to dictate the course of your life. Help is available.

The Time to Seek Help Is Now

The U.S. Armed Forces receives droves of new recruits every single year. Unfortunately, many of those committed to serve don’t understand that their service could have effects that last a lifetime. If you’re a veteran dealing with substance abuse problems, you don’t need to “tough it out.” It takes incredible strength to reach out for help and get clean.

Transformations at Mending Fences is committed to serving the men and women who served America. The licensed therapist heading up the Help For Our Heroes Program is a veteran and first responder, and the entire program focuses on the unique needs of former military members. Drug abuse in veterans is a national problem, but you don’t have to let it win on an individual level.

Contact us today to learn how we can help.