by Marie Miguel
"Now more than ever, opioid abuse is running rampant in the United States. Opioids are a drug class that includes some prescribed pain medications like fentanyl, oxycodone, and morphine, as well as the illegal drug heroin. They are all intensely addicting, and many people suffer from this and other adverse effects because of them. While anyone from any walk of life can abuse opioids, one group of people that is especially susceptible to opioid abuse is our veterans. Our men and women in the armed forces can fall victim to opioid addiction as they deal with both physiological and psychological effects after their service.
Opioid Abuse in Veterans: Opioid-related deaths are nearly five times higher now than at the end of the nineties. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 60,000 people died of a drug overdose that involved an opioid in 2016. For many veterans, who are twice as likely to fall victim to opioids than non-veterans, danger isn’t just limited to the battlefield, but also back stateside, where they are likely to suffer from consequences related to their experiences in combat and active duty.
Veterans and Pain: Some veterans sustain injuries from combat or other aspects of duty, and the severity of these injuries makes it seem like recovery is impossible. The pain is ever-present, and managing it is difficult. One way they cope with the pain is by taking opioids, like fentanyl or morphine. Oftentimes these substances are prescribed, but they can also be obtained illegally. At first, the opioids relieve the pain, but over time, the amount of pain relief is reduced due to tolerance. The need for more to achieve the same (or lesser) effect often leads people to abuse opioids. The constant chase for the same relief by using more and more of a specific substance is the main driver for addiction. To some, pain relief can feel just as good as getting high.
PTSD and Other Coping Mechanisms: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be triggered by both physical injuries from the battlefield, as well as mental and/or emotional trauma from experiences in active duty. Constant heightened anxiety or triggered anxiety attacks can lead some sufferers to turn to drugs (including opioids) and alcohol to help them cope. What many don’t realize is that these drugs do little to help them manage their PTSD in the long-run. Using drugs or alcohol to help mitigate sleep problems related to PTSD could worsen sleep issues among other things since sleep quality is negatively affected by these substances. Drugs and alcohol also can prove to be a short-lived distraction that causes larger issues like decreased productivity and lessened concentration. Once other aspects of their lives are affected by the results of preferring the momentary distraction of drugs, rather than stopping the use of these substances, it’s likely that people will choose to use more. It’s a terrifying cycle to say the least.
Problems with Veteran Care: Healthcare in general is difficult for many in the U.S., but for veterans, it is especially difficult. Sadly, many veterans don’t receive the treatment they deserve when they return. Access to services like Veterans’ Affairs health care can be limited to those in more populated areas. Wait times have been excessive, or in some instances, falsified. Without access to adequate care in a reasonable amount of time, veterans may feel like they have no other choice to turn to self-medication methods. These are definitely issues that will take quite some time to fix, but there is one solution that is readily available.
Counseling: Therapy can be immensely helpful, although some veterans may be averse to the idea, or don’t think it could work for them. A licensed counselor can help a veteran readjust to life outside of active duty and learn techniques to deal with addiction, PTSD, and other mental health issues in a healthy manner. A therapist can help them learn to identify and avoid triggers, make changes to their thinking patterns or usual behaviors to help manage an episode, and ways to address their addiction.
Counseling isn’t confined to an in-person office. Online counseling is a quicker and more accessible solution for veterans that can’t travel to see a therapist, or can’t wait for a long period of time to be seen. Best of all, there are free counseling services that veterans can use in order to receive much-needed help. If you are a veteran or know someone who is, counseling can help you manage the different battles you’re fighting at home."
Get help now: If you are in a crisis or any other person may
be in danger the following resources can provide you with immediate help:
Marie Miguel Biography: Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.