Our men and women of the armed forces often deal with numerous issues that many other professionals can’t comprehend.
They may turn to substances as a coping mechanism.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), military personnel who experience combat exposure, frequent deployments, and injuries related to service have the greatest risk of developing substance abuse problems. Other contributing factors include:
- The stigma of asking for help with substance use disorder (SUD) in a self-reliant, hyper-masculine military culture.
- An inability to deal with excessive stress of combat in the field and/or adaptation to civilian life.
- Hiding illicit drug use and its resulting problems because of the military’s zero-tolerance policies.
- Heavy weekly social drinking, self-medicating injury- or stress-related alcohol consumption, and binge drinking tendencies during leave.
- Fear—justified or otherwise—of no confidentiality regarding SUD treatment.
Zero tolerance of illicit drug use means if someone’s behavior is detected and reported, the behavior results in a dishonorable discharge. Current statistics indicate that while illegal drug use doesn’t seem to be common in the military—perhaps because it’s not widely reported—prescription drug abuse and alcoholism are increasing problems.
In Georgia, where the opioid epidemic is still prevalent, active and former members of the military who experience PTSD often receive painkiller prescriptions. According to the Georgia Department of Law’s site Dose of Reality, some individuals were “more likely to receive higher-dose opioids. Additionally, 27 percent of veterans diagnosed with PTSD also have a substance use disorder.”
Military.com references data released from the U.S. Department of Defense which states “members of the sea services were more likely to report binge or hazardous drinking.” More accurately, verbatim from the site’s sources:
- The Marine Corps had the highest reported rate, with 42.6 percent of respondents saying they engaged in binge drinking within the past 30 days.
- The Navy was next, with 34.2 percent of sailors reporting binge drinking.
- More than 31 percent of Coast Guard respondents also said they’d binged.
Binge drinking is defined as consuming a certain amount of alcohol in one session, at least once a month. For women, this is four or more drinks on a single occasion. For men, it’s five or more.
Sadly, there’s a past history in some branches of not handling SUD concerns very well, which compounds the mistrust, secrecy, and self-reliance involved in avoiding proper treatment.
Nevertheless, there are extensive resources for veterans and active military personnel to receive immediate medical care and professional assistance to overcome this disease.
Resources You Can Use Right Now
Sometimes amidst all the other challenges in life, taking time to sift through flyers and pamphlets doesn’t provide the immediate access to understanding what’s going on. Bookmark the following websites to learn right away what organizations and agencies will be best for your or a loved one’s needs.
If you or someone else is in crisis, please call one of these hotlines:
- The Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 and press 1
- Stop Soldier Suicide: 1-844-889-5610
- The Real Warriors Live Chat: 1-866-966-1020 or start a live chat online
- PTSD Veteran Line: 1-877-717-7873
- National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
Of course, you’re probably aware of the VA and its stockpile of resources. However, do you know you don’t have to be a combat veteran to receive assistance at the VA? The services and resources are available to all who served their country.
Here’s the easiest place to start: The Veterans Health Library (VHL). The VHL is redesigned to make navigation more efficient, with better access to comprehensive information. It’s open to active and former military personnel, family members, and caregivers.
An alphabetical index allows you to find topics and subtopics quickly on a mobile device or laptop. So, clicking on “A” provides information for alcoholism such as “Alcohol Abuse and Dependence—What Increases Your Risk” or “Alcohol Abuse and Dependence—When to Call a Doctor.” A search under “S” brings up articles such as “Substance Abuse and Mental Health Problems” or “Suicide and PTSD.”
Return to the main VA page to go more in-depth with resource options and a special page for substance abuse programs and services. While there, learn more about Local Recovery Coordinators, and the Substance Use Disorder Program locations.
Also follow the Make the Connection link to hear from hundreds of veterans as they open up about their experiences and stories of recovery. Curious about what they talk about? Check out these videos from:
- Stephen, who learned to heal from PTSD
- John, who’s now more than 30 years sober
- Carol, formerly addicted to drugs
- Steven and Moses, who share the importance of mental health support networks
- Elliott, who recognized trouble with anger, anxiety, and PTSD
- Veterans who struggled with SUD and homelessness after leaving the service
The Georgia Department of Veterans Service offers an easy listing of county VA field offices. So does Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama. These local offices will have information about health services, support groups, veterans’ groups, and other resources. For an idea of other state-specific resources, review this article from 2017, published by the AJC.
Additional resources you can use to learn more about addiction, mental health, and available treatment options include:
- The Real Warriors Campaign
- Military Sexual Trauma
- Women Veterans Health Care
- National Center for PTSD
- Caregiver Support Services
Find Camaraderie and Support for Your Return to Health
A primary aspect of military life that’s often hard to leave behind is the assurance someone has your six. If you or a person you love feels isolated because of SUD or issues contributing to it, visiting a Willingway continuing care community group can provide a sense of belonging and support.
There are many weekly informal gatherings held throughout the Southeast. Free and open to alumni, their families, and anyone in the community, they can help you learn more about substance abuse and freedom through recovery.
We’re proud of your service. Now, let us serve you and your journey to the healthful and rewarding life you deserve.