Veterans Prescription Drug Abuse

Veterans Prescription Drug Abuse

The extreme mental and physical stress service members may experience can, unfortunately, lead to substance abuse and/or addiction. Some people try to cope with the stress and other emotions by “self-medicating” with drugs or alcohol. However, drug and alcohol abuse only worsen an already unhealthy situation. 

In other cases, doctors may prescribe painkillers like morphine, oxycodone, and Percocet to treat physical ailments. These potent and highly addictive medications can leave Veterans dependent on them. As a result, substance abuse in the military has become much more common. 

Substance Abuse Among Active-Duty Personnel vs. Veterans

The unique culture of the military, coupled with the stresses of service, are both risk and protective factors for substance abuse among active-duty personnel. Deployment is associated with smoking, unhealthy drinking, drug use, and risky behaviors in general. 

The military has a zero-tolerance policy for the use of illicit substances. All branches conduct mandatory drug testing, offer programs for treatment of drug and alcohol problems, and provide education and resources for assistance. The military may also punish violations with Article 15/UCMJ action, criminal prosecution or dishonorable discharge.

Overall, illicit drug use among active-duty personnel is relatively low, according to the National Institutes of Health. The misuse of prescription drugs has also decreased, perhaps due to heightened awareness of the nation’s opioid crisis. Comparatively, rates of binge drinking among the military are higher compared to the general population. 

However,  once service members leave the military, they lose some protective influence and a support system. Substance abuse and mental health have become a greater concern with more than 10 percent of Veterans having been diagnosed with substance use disorder (SUD).

Overall, the prevalence of substance use disorders among male Veterans was lower than rates among their civilian counterparts when all ages were considered. However, for Veterans aged 18-25, the rate of SUD was higher compared to civilians. Addressing SUD in Veterans is paramount. Substance use is linked to an increased risk of homelessness, problems with relationships and work, and suicide. 

Complicating matters is the stigma associated with seeking help for addiction. For example, half of active-duty military personnel said they believe seeking help would hurt their military career. This risk belief deters many Veterans from seeking help.

Substance Abuse Among Veterans

Approximately 11 percent of Veterans who visit a VA medical facility for the first time have SUD. Many turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with the transition to civilian life or to manage pain or mental health disorders related to their time in service. 

  • Nearly 900,000 Veterans (over 80 percent) abuse alcohol *Binge drinking being one of the more common issues. 
  • About 300,000 Veterans (nearly 27 percent) abuse illegal drugs
  • Almost 80,000 Veterans (about 7 percent) abuse both illicit drugs and alcohol

Alcoholism Among Veterans

Binge drinking is common among active-duty personnel and can evolve into alcoholism. Veterans who abuse alcohol are more likely to commit acts of violence, suffer from negative health consequences, and have a shorter lifespan. Nearly twice the number of Veterans enter treatment programs for alcohol abuse compared to their civilian counterparts.

Drug Use Among Veterans

Veterans may use prescription drugs to manage chronic pain for service-connected injuries. Opioid painkillers are highly addictive, and a Veteran can easily become at risk for abuse or addiction.

Opioids, which the government has tightened restrictions on in recent years due to the risk of abuse and misuse, have become a gateway to illicit drug use. 

  • Marijuana is the most commonly used drug among Veterans. At least 11 percent, or 2.3 million, Veterans reported using marijuana. Veterans in some states may be prescribed medical marijuana and use it under doctor’s orders. 
  • Nearly 11 percent of Veterans are admitted to treatment centers for heroin use. About 45,000 are diagnosed with heroin addiction in a single year.
  • More than 6 percent of Veterans are admitted to treatment centers for cocaine use.
  • About 41,000 Veterans are diagnosed with an addiction to painkillers in a single year.
  • The most common prescription painkillers Veterans are most likely to misuse include the opioid drug hydrocodone, such as Norco, Vicodin. 

Mental Health Issues Among Veterans

There’s no denying that mental health issues and SUD often go hand-in-hand, especially in Veterans.

Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can lead a Veteran to self-medicate with substances, which can easily lead to SUD. 

  • Between 82-93 percent of Veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq with SUD had at least one co-occurring mental health disorder.
  • Veterans with SUD are 3 to 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with depression.
  • Up to 50 percent of Veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq were diagnosed with at least one mental illness. 
  • At least 1 in 10 Veterans experience symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Veterans and PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that results from exposure to a traumatic event. Many Veterans have exposure and associated PTSD. PTSD symptoms can affect all areas of your life–physical, occupational, social, familial, self-care–negatively affecting a Veteran’s ability to enjoy life. Veterans may cope by drinking or using drugs.

PTSD can also worsen SUD.

  • Nearly a quarter of all Veterans have PTSD.
  • Veterans with SUD are three to four times more likely to suffer from PTSD.
  • Nearly three-quarters of all Veterans with SUD who served in Afghanistan and Iraq also have PTSD.
  • More than one in five Veterans diagnosed with PTSD also have a co-occurring disorder. 

Treatment Is Necessary

If you or your loved one is a Veteran and has developed an alcohol or drug addiction, seek the right treatment. An addiction may signal an underlying mental condition that needs to be addressed. Many treatments can help Veterans overcome both substance abuse and physical and mental symptoms. 

Our VA Disability Lawyers Can Help You Get the Services You Need

The experienced and dedicated VA disability claims attorneys at Berry Law are here to help you get the legal help and medical attention that you need. We understand that therapy and medical care are expensive. We can help you appeal your VA claim in order to obtain the compensation and benefits that you deserve.

Many Veterans who are coming home from combat in Afghanistan or Iraq with PTSD are also susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse. The chance of prescription drug abuse specifically is even higher. Our Veterans need help with these issues. Berry Law is here to start helping by providing quality and skilled legal representation.

Please call (888) 682-0751 or contact us online today. Our VA disability compensation law firm represents Veterans across the United States.

John S. Berry, Jr., Attorney for Veterans Disability
John S. Berry, Jr., VA Disaility Claims Lawyer
Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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