For servicewomen, military sexual assaults also contribute to high PTSD rates in veterans.
In a comorbidity study conducted a couple of decades ago, 52% of men and 29% of women struggling with PTSD were found to have alcohol dependence.
Unfortunately, veterans with PTSD are also in this trend, with statistics indicating that 33% of veterans getting treatment for a substance use disorder also have PTSD. The number of smoking veterans with PTSD is almost double.
Even though military women show lower rates of heavy drinking than military men, the use of other illicit drugs is comparable for both genders. However, women have to deal with the extra stress and challenges of being female in a male-dominated field. Other factors which increase the chances of military women developing substance use disorders are: their higher rates of depression than men, more women than men report PTSD even before entering military service, and females face sexual trauma, sexual assault, and fear of sexual harassment.
While only 1% of males report sexual assault or harassment, females report 20 to 30% cases. Female veterans with substance use disorders are more likely to have experienced sexual abuse during childhood, domestic violence, anxiety, depression, military sexual trauma and PTSD. Additionally, female veterans with substance abuse are at a higher rate of suicide and even death.
At La Jolla Recovery, we provide women’s rehab as well as attention to veterans. This makes it possible to attend gender specific issues as well as those of background.
Chronic Pain and Brain Injury
Chronic pain is also why many veterans fall into substance abuse. While some of us may suffer from some kind of long-term pain, veterans are at a greater risk of developing chronic pain because of the extreme circumstances and traumatic injuries experienced in war. They may use opioids such as heroin to handle the pain. These are strong painkillers available only with a prescription.
In the recent past, there has been a sharp rise in opioid prescriptions, which has led to addictions. A study conducted by the Center for Investigative Reporting 6 years ago indicated that during the last decade, there was almost a 300% increase in veteran opioid prescriptions in the US. This increase resulted in twice the amount of overdose and addiction deaths among veterans as compared to the average population.
For people struggling with opioid addictions, their situation may be faced in various challenges. A traumatic brain injury might be another trigger of substance abuse, which may result from a violent shake or blow to the head. As a result, the brain collides with the skull and suffers nerve damage. They turn to alcohol and drugs as a way of numbing their pain and getting pleasure.
If you or your loved one has just come out of service, here are some of the symptoms which may indicate an individual has a traumatic brain injury: insomnia, headaches, slow speech, amnesia, nausea, blurred vision, hyper sensitivity to light, dizziness and disorientation. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) indicated that 30% of veterans deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan could have experienced a traumatic brain injury.
Most abused Substances by Veterans
Alcohol can be categorized both as a stimulant and depressant depending on the amount consumed. If taken in small amounts, it acts as a stimulant, altering excitatory neurotransmitters. The user feels euphoric, which may encourage further drinking. In huge amounts, it behaves like a depressant. It depresses the user’s central nervous system and affects inhibitory neurotransmitters. Electrical activity in the brain reduces, and as a result, the user experiences slow speech, poor balance, sluggish movements, drowsiness, and other symptoms. This is referred to as binge drinking (taking 5 or 6 drinks on one occasion), and it occurs more commonly among military people than the general population.
Veterans choose alcohol to cope with PTSD and other disorders from the war. Alcohol abuse and PTSD are closely related. Statistics by the US Department of Veteran Affairs indicate that 68% of Vietnam veterans looking for PTSD treatment have alcohol use problems as well.
Back pain, chronic headaches, and lost limbs are common results of war. Opioids are man-made substances derived from opiates, designed to work as painkillers.
Oxycotin, Lortab, and Vicodin are some of the most popular opioid brands. These are effective in dealing with different types of pain. Nevertheless, they are very addictive. In many cases, veterans start abusing opioid while still in active duty. When they get hurt, they go for opioid pills to get some relief. Before they realize, they develop an addiction to these painkillers even after leaving the military. It is not uncommon to begin with prescription opiates and use heroin later for reasons of cost as well as availability.
Other than pain and injuries, there are conditions which veterans face such as anxiety and insomnia. Sedatives and benzodiazepines are the “remedy”. Benzodiazepines are psychoactive drugs which affect the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. These receptors are responsible for reducing or inhibiting brain activity. Benzodiazepines are often prescribed to tackle panic disorders, anxiety, and seizures. Sedatives and benzodiazepines should not be used for PTSD, since there is little research and data on their effectiveness. Furthermore, new evidence is emerging about the possible health risks of using these medications for PTSD.
Signs of Addiction in Vets
The use of alcohol or drugs brings a temporary feeling of happiness and excitement. This feeling is what users crave. However, once the substance effects have worn off, so do the euphoric sensations. The addict experiences apathetic, depressive and listlessly. After euphoric feelings have worn off, they try to get another high. It becomes a cycle that this leads to collapse.
The user has no energy or interests in interacting with his/her relatives or friends. They also develop secretive behaviors like lying about their substance use and hiding their drugs or alcohol. If a friend or a family member has just left active military service, and you’ve noticed these symptoms, it’s always good to follow up with a professional to find out if there is a problem with addiction.
We recommend speaking with a recovery professional for yourself or a loved one in a suitable substance abuse rehab clinic like La Jolla Recovery. Fully residential rehab venues like ours provide a safe environment where a veteran can recover without temptations and they ensure 24/7 care from qualified clinicians in case withdrawal symptoms or other obstacles to recovery appear.
The three initial stages of the client´s stay are evaluation, detox, and therapy. The evaluation stage is aimed at determining a veteran’s severity of substance abuse, and whether they have other co-existing conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, or depression. Data from this assessment is then used to draw up a personal strategy. Then, detox is in order so that toxic substances are eliminated. Afterwards, counselling and therapy become the focus. Some of the therapies used in the treatment are CBT, DBT, one to one counselling, group therapy, process therapy, trauma therapy, and holistic therapies such as mindfulness meditation, relaxation, and music therapy, tai chi or yoga. An aftercare plan designed to help the patient stay in recovery will be drafted.
Suicide and Substance Abuse among Veterans
A number of studies have shown that there are links between veteran substance abuse, depression, and suicide. A study that involved more than 675,000 active duty personnel determined that the rate of both substance use disorders and depression has increased among active members of the military. It also determined that the suicide rate across all military services in the USA is on the rise.