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Among active duty service members and veterans, alcohol and prescription drug abuse is higher than in the general population. Many of these soldiers and veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression. PTSD and depression may be caused by exposure to combat, multiple deployments, or sexual abuse. PTSD places veterans at higher risk for addiction.
A 2008 survey of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans found that 13.8% suffered from PTSD. Common symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks to traumatic events, memory impairments, poor self-esteem, insomnia, difficulty managing relationships, aggressive behaviors, hopelessness, attention deficits, and self-harm. It is estimated that 20% of veterans with PTSD also suffer from dependence on drugs or alcohol.
Veterans with depression, PTSD, and injury-related pain are often prescribed medications that are highly addictive. The most common types of addictive prescription drugs are painkillers, Benzodiazepines, and sedatives. Prescriptions of this sort may initiate a serious drug addiction. In 2009, military doctors prescribed painkillers to 3.8 million soldiers.
Even in the absence of prescription drugs, the preponderance of alcohol abuse in the military places veterans at increased risk of addiction. One survey revealed that 20% of service members binge drink at least once weekly, and the rate increased for those with combat experience. Between 2003 and 2009 there was a 56% increase in soldiers receiving treatment for addiction to alcohol.
Many veterans who were prescribed addictive medications for pain and PTSD eventually turn to illicit drugs such as heroin, which is cheaper and easier to obtain.
The combination of PTSD and addiction complicates treatment for veterans. Unfortunately, they are at higher risk for relapse. It’s important for veterans to find addiction treatment programs that focus on treating addiction issues in conjunction with appropriate treatments for PTSD.
Veterans do have more treatment options available to them than the average civilian, however, the waiting list for assistance through the Department of Veteran Affairs is long and treatment cannot wait. If you or someone you love is a veteran currently struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, please call immediately for assistance.
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