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5 Difficulties Veterans Face Which Increase Susceptibility to Addiction

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Veteran in front of American flag - Veterans' Susceptibility to Addiction

Addiction affects countless individuals in the communities we are a part of. In this post, we discuss one community that is particularly susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse—veterans. The many difficulties veterans must endure make them significantly more prone to self-medicating behaviors. Many of the factors listed below can become the source of the urge to self-medicate in order to cope with stress, chronic pain, or traumatic memories. Here are 5 difficulties veterans face which can increase their susceptibility to substance use disorders.

1 – Combat Trauma and PTSD

Starting with the most obvious, seeing combat can in itself be a traumatic experience. While the relative peace and safety afforded to us in our country is a privilege, it also serves to make us particularly vulnerable to violent scenes and actions in real life. Most people have not seen bloodshed or witnessed violence done unto those close to them nor have they intentionally fatally harmed others. War may be avoidable, but the casualties of war are not. Combat can have a profound effect on a person’s psyche, regardless how strong willed they are.

Veterans who have seen combat are highly susceptible to PTSD, which is a powerful comorbidity and an often dual-diagnosed condition that presents itself alongside substance use disorders (SUD). According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, more than 2 out of 10 veterans with PTSD have a SUD. According to PEW Research, about 3 in 10 veterans have had combat experience at some point in their career, whilst the number of veterans with combat experience post-9/11 rests at a staggering 49% as compared to the 24% of those who served prior. Additionally, 4 in 10 veterans report knowing someone who was killed in the line of duty. This number is much higher (74%) when surveying only veterans who have had combat experience.

All of this is to say that the rates of PTSD are high in veterans for obvious reasons. PEW also reports that about 1 in 3 post-9/11 veterans believe they have suffered from post-traumatic stress. 

2 – Chronic Pain

While chronic pain is certainly not limited to veterans, it is nonetheless a significant occupational hazard many veterans contend with. Chronic pain is said to affect up to 100 million people in the US. While there are no hard and fast statistics regarding just how many veterans experience chronic pain—what is known is that roughly 1 in 5 veterans report persistent pain and 1 in 3 veterans have been diagnosed with a condition that is related to their chronic pain.

3 – Military Sexual Trauma and Harassment

Conditions such as PTSD and chronic pain are often in the spotlight as primary driving forces for addiction in veterans. However, there are other factors related to service that can be traumatic or problematic for those who serve.

Military sexual trauma is a rampant issue that both men and women face while serving. It is estimated by the US Department of Veteran Affairs using data obtained through VA insurance that: 

  • 23 out of 100 women have reported sexual assault while in the military (23%)
  • 55 out of 100 women (55%) and 38 out of 100 men (38%) have experienced sexual harassment in the military

4 – Returning to Civilian Life

It is a common experience for many active duty members to leave the military and have difficulty adjusting to civilian life. This can be for a variety of reasons. The military provides an almost unparalleled level of structure in a person’s life. Exiting that structure may leave people feeling ungrounded. The military provides a lot for an individual.

  • A career
  • Housing
  • A community
  • Medical care
  • Necessities such as clothing and food

Having your lifestyle structured in this way for so long can make re-adjustment to civilian life dizzying with the amount of things a person may suddenly have to do that were previously taken care of. Those who experience significant challenges with the transition may see important elements of their life begin to fall apart. If a veteran is suffering from mental illness while navigating the transition, this can be even more of a concern.

5 – Reluctance to Enter Treatment/Avoiding Therapy

Part of Encore’s mission—any provider of treatment’s mission, should be to bring awareness to the issue of substance use disorders in our country and to destigmatize seeking out care for what is a real illness. It is the job of any military to train its members to be resilient and to work without question or complaint. However, when a person leaves the service, does that attitude truly leave them?

Active duty and veterans alike both have a reluctance to seek out help for their mental health or substance use challenges. It is no surprise given that even ordinary civilians suffering from addiction can be resistant to seeking out treatment. 

Ultimately, veterans are a susceptible population when it comes to substance use and substance use disorders—particularly regarding alcohol usage, in which veterans were more likely to use heavily as compared to the general population. The myriad of difficulties they go through as part of their occupation alongside their general reluctance to seek help makes veterans much more prone to self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

If you have been struggling with a substance use disorder, contact Encore Outpatient Services today.

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