Substance Abuse is a Growing Problem in the Veteran Community
Substance use & mental health disorders are unfortunately common among veterans.
The opioid epidemic, for example, has heavily impacted veterans, increasing overdose rates. Addiction may develop for some during their time in the military, while for others, it develops when they finish serving. It’s a growing problem and something that more people should be aware of. This Memorial Day, millions of American families will take time to honor the memory of the men and women who lost their lives fighting in the nation’s wars.
Outside of this day, we must not lose sight of the millions of veterans who need help treating a drug or alcohol addiction or mental illness.
In Wisconsin are over 350,000 veterans, most of whom are wartime vets. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 3.9 million veterans nationally have a substance use disorder or mental illness. Unfortunately, substance use disorders significantly increase suicidality among veterans ages 18 and older. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are also common among veterans ages 18 to 49.
“Early intervention saves lives and can prevent overdose, addiction, and suicide. Yet, it is also important for families to know where to find help,” said Michael Leach of Addicted.org.
Numerous causative factors lead to drug and alcohol abuse among veterans. For instance, many vets struggle to adjust to civilian life. They may experience financial hardships, difficulty finding employment, or accessing benefits. Many other veterans struggle with mental and emotional health problems. This can often be compounded with physical injury and chronic pain, leading to pain medication use. Untreated trauma, for example, and unwanted feelings can lead to drug and alcohol use as a means of coping.
Veterans also face barriers when accessing help, such as cost and gaps in health insurance. Stigma regarding addiction and mental illness is still common. Veterans living in rural areas have limited access to treatment. Besides the standard resources provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA facility locator, other supports include:
- The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs offers different supports and help;
- The Wisconsin Veterans Network works with numerous agencies across Wisconsin’s counties;
- The Wisconsin National Guard has soldier and family assistance centers able to help veterans;
- Helpful hotlines include the Veteran Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, and the Lifeline for Vets, 1-888-777-4443;
- SAMHSA has a treatment facility locator where veterans can find specific substance use treatment resources in the state.
Families also play a significant role in helping their loved ones. It’s ok to express concern about their drug and alcohol use. Speak to them openly and honestly about their problem. Help them find treatment. Be patient and show compassion.
It’s never too late to offer a helping hand. These men and women sacrificed a great deal. When communities and families unite, amazing things happen, and a veteran’s life can be saved.
Veronica Raussinis a Community Outreach Coordinator for Addicted.org, passionate about spreading awareness ofthe risks and dangers of alcohol & drug use.