Substance Use Disorders in Veterans
On Veterans Day, we unite to honor every brave individual who served in the U.S. armed forces. Every year, on November 11th, Americans celebrate Veterans day by volunteering at veteran organizations or spending time with the veterans they know. People who are veterans may take this time to catch up with friends from the military and commemorate those that have passed.
As we pay homage to those who served and sacrificed for the United States, it’s essential to remember that this time of year can be challenging for the mental health of our veterans. Trauma, even after combat, can still plague individuals long after the battle. Some veterans may be able to turn to each other or loved ones in distressing times. However, others may unintentionally find solace in substances, which leads to long-term substance use disorders.
On this Veterans Day, take some time to educate yourself on the mental health disorder symptoms that plague many veterans, and intervene if you see these symptoms exhibited in the people you know and love.
Mental Health Disorders and Veterans
Former military personnel have a higher likelihood than civilians of developing mental health disorders beyond post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. The long-term impact of post-war trauma can trigger the emergence of other mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The first step in learning how you can help your loved one combat these illnesses is identifying their symptoms when they ever manifest.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
When a person develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they may have intense, recurrent thoughts about a traumatic event long after it occurred. Although anyone who experiences a traumatic event may develop PTSD, it is prevalent in veterans who have experienced combat, sexual assault, or a severe accident. During World War I and II, people often referred to PTSD as "shell shock" or "combat fatigue."
Common symptoms of PTSD in veterans include:
- Reliving a traumatic event. These memories may be triggered by events, actions, sounds, smells, or even objects that appear benign to others. A person with PTSD may relive these events at any time.
- Vivid nightmares and sleep disturbances. Veterans with PTSD often find it challenging to maintain a regular sleep schedule and may develop insomnia. When they can fall asleep, they may have vivid nightmares reliving the event. In turn, these nightmares may force them to wake up frequently throughout the night.
- Constantly feeling "on edge." Veterans with PTSD may find it impossible to relax and feel as though they're always on the lookout for danger. We refer to this as "hyperarousal." This hyperarousal can become so intense that veterans experience difficulty concentrating.
Unfortunately, many veterans with PTSD do not seek treatment due to the stigma surrounding mental health care. Surveys show that 63% of returning veterans would not seek treatment from mental health professionals because they believe it will negatively impact their military or civilian careers.
Depression is significantly more common in the military and veterans than in the general population. During military service, soldiers can quickly become depressed due to military life's stressors, including combat, deployment, and relocations. However, the increased risk of depression doesn't end when someone is discharged from the military. Research shows that depression affects 20% of veterans and suicidal ideation or attempts occur in 11% of veterans.
Common symptoms of depression in veterans include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. When veterans experience depression, they may express a sense of hopelessness about the future. If a loved one is experiencing depression, you may notice that they seldom express interest or enthusiasm for activities they once enjoyed.
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits. Individuals with depression often find it impossible to get out of bed or experience excessive tiredness throughout the day, but some people with depression also have trouble sleeping throughout the night. In addition, individuals with depression exhibit symptoms by eating more or less often than usual.
- Decline in personal hygiene and self-care. Veterans experiencing depression often find it challenging to perform everyday tasks, such as washing the dishes or making it to necessary appointments. They may also lack the energy to take regular showers, wash their clothes, or brush their teeth.
Even veterans that don't display these symptoms may suffer from depression. Veterans, particularly men, may experience intense shame or guilt about their inability to feel happy or be "functional." As a result, many veterans are adept at hiding their depression and could exhibit traits of high-functioning depression.
Substance Use Disorder Risks in Veterans
Currently, 27.4% of militaries are women, and 72.6% are men. Although female veterans also experience mental health issues, male veterans are significantly less likely to seek treatment for their problems. While many factors contribute to the underuse of mental health treatment for men, the most prevalent cause of this issue is masculine norms, defined as "the social rules and expected behavior associated with men and manhood within a given culture."
In other words, the pressure that men face to adhere to masculine norms exacerbates their mental health issues because it renders them unable to express emotions that may be perceived as "weak," such as fear or inconsolable sadness. These societal norms are a subset of hegemonic masculinity and toxic masculinity, which exist to assert male dominance and privilege over women and certain men. Male veterans are often deterred from seeking mental health treatment. To "man up," they often self-medicate with prescription drugs and alcohol.
Simultaneously, veterans are often prescribed highly addictive anxiety medications to alleviate PTSD symptoms. If a veteran has a combat-related injury, doctors may prescribe opioids for pain relief. When veterans continue to take these medications, they can quickly develop a dependency and a full-blown substance use disorder.
However, the problem is that many veterans require painkillers or anxiety medication to treat long-term or persistent injuries and mental health disorders. If there is a risk of abuse for prescription medicine, keeping it out of reach and locked using an encoded pill bottle, like the Safe Rx Locking Pill Bottle, can help to mitigate misuse.
Treatment for Substance Use Disorders
Fortunately, veterans seeking treatment for their mental health issues or substance use disorder can obtain inpatient and outpatient treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Veterans typically undergo psychotherapy and medication-assisted treatment during inpatient or outpatient treatment. The VA offers extensive treatment options, which include:
- Family Counseling
- One-on-one counseling
- PTSD treatment
- Group therapy
- Inpatient and outpatient rehab
- Withdrawal medications
If you are a veteran ready to get help for a substance use disorder or other mental health issues, don't wait to find a VA hospital near you. If you're experiencing an emergency, contact the Veterans Crisis Line immediately.
Partner with Safe Rx for Veterans Day
Veterans Day is a time to remember the sacrifices our veterans have made. In giving thanks, check in with the veterans in your life and ensure they have the help they need — whether that’s from you or a professional.
Whether you’re a veteran or someone you know is a veteran, keeping medications secure is vital in treating and preventing substance use disorders. At Safe Rx, we’re dedicated to supporting medication safety to prevent misuse and accidental overdoses.
As a special thank you to all veterans, Safe Rx is offering 20% off of your entire order. Our Safe Rx Locking Pill Bottles can help you protect your prescription medications with a secure 4-digit code.
Contact us today if you’re interested in learning more about how Safe Rx can assist you in medication safety.