The Scope of the Veteran Substance Abuse Problem

 

Contents

The Scope of the Veteran Substance Abuse Problem… 1
PTSD and Substance Abuse. 1
EMDR for PTSD.. 1
The Impacts of Substance Abuse on Veterans. 1
Homelessness. 1
Suicide. 1
Prison. 1
Domestic Violence. 1
A War on Home Soil for Veterans. 1

Veterans have substance use disorders and alcohol use disorders at a higher rate than civilian populations. 11% of people getting care from the VA enter the Veteran’s Administration health system for substance abuse issues.[1] Up to 1 in 15 Veterans may have a substance or alcohol use disorder.[2]

PTSD and Substance Abuse

It is well documented that PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) is linked to substance and alcohol use disorders.[3] Veterans experience traumatic events more than civilians. Combat is traumatic even if there is no injury. Trauma will be worse if the Veteran sees a friend injured or killed. These traumatic events may cause intense flashbacks when the Veteran returns home. These flashbacks can be triggered by almost anything the Veteran’s mind can associate with the trauma.

PTSD leads to anxiety, depression, and suicide.[4] It is common for Veterans to take drugs or alcohol to deal with these issues. What the Veteran needs is therapy to address the underlying problems.

EMDR for PTSD

EMDR Therapy has been shown to have a quick impact on PTSD, with lasting results.[5] During EMDR, the Veteran follows a series of dots while the mental health professional is asking questions and trying to pinpoint the problem. While the mechanism is not fully understood, visual tracking allows mental health professionals to get closer to the cause of PTSD than normal therapy alone.

The Impacts of Substance Abuse on Veterans

Homelessness

Veterans with a substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder are at greater risk for homelessness. Veterans account for 11% of all homeless adults in the United States.  Approximately 20% of Veterans seeking addiction treatment are homeless and an estimated 70% of homeless Veterans have a substance use disorder.[6]

Suicide

The Journal of Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation estimates that over 30% of successful suicides in Veterans were soldiers with a substance use or alcohol use disorder.  It is not always a clear case of suicide.[7] Over 20% of Veteran deaths the high-risk situations are caused by alcohol or drug abuse. We will never know what percentage of those death were disguised suicides, but those death need to be added to the statistics.

Prison

Veterans in prison are more likely than not to have a mental health condition, including PTSD. Combat Veterans are diagnosed with a mental health condition at 1.5 times the rate of Veterans who did not see combat.[8]

Domestic Violence

Veteran alcohol abuse has been linked to interpersonal violence and, more specifically, domestic violence. Data shows a high likelihood of violence when a heavy drinking Veteran is involved.[9] Domestic violence does more than alienate family and friends. Veterans can be arrested for the violence. This is one way that the prison population of Veterans is driven higher. Veterans can also become embroiled in divorce and custody proceedings if the assault or injure their domestic partner. This drives both the suicide and homelessness rates higher.

A War on Home Soil for Veterans

We published a guide on Veteran substance abuse that dives into these issues deeper. Here is a look at a small sampling of the information that guide provides:

  • 1 million Veterans struggle with substance abuse disorders
  • The impact of drugs and alcohol on active-duty soldiers
  • The rise of opioid and prescription drug abuse
  • Addiction treatment for Veterans and active-duty soldiers
  • How to deal with a substance use disorder caused by deployment
  • The problem soldiers have when transitioning to civilian life
  • Resources for Veterans assistance

Written by Arrow Passage Recovery who provides addiction and dual diagnosis treatment.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5587184/
[2] https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_1969/Spotlight-1969.html
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3466083/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4026925/
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3951033/
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4521393/
[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29553778/
[8] https://healthandjusticejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40352-019-0086-9
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5587184/