Veterans face hardships that are especially challenging and can increase their risk of developing substance issues. Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, Virginia is here to help them and their families recover. 

A Growing Problem: Substance Use Disorder in Veterans

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and other agencies have made attempts to reduce substance misuse among Veterans, but the problem has continued to grow despite these efforts. Several factors contribute to problematic substance use among Veterans:

  • Military-specific problems (combat exposure, deployment, reintegration into civilian life)
  • Medical concerns
  • Mental health diagnoses (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Work-related problems
  • Interpersonal challenges
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts

Frightening Statistics: Veterans Substance Misuse and Mental Health Concerns 

The combination of substance use and mental health concerns can be especially lethal for members of the military and Veterans. According to an article in the National Library of Medicine, one study found that around a third of completed suicides by military personnel were preceded by alcohol or drug use and that about 20 percent of deaths that resulted from high-risk behaviors were the result of alcohol or drug overdose. Around a fifth of all suicides in the United States are completed by Veterans. The rate of suicide for Veterans is about 1.5 times higher than for non-Veteran adults.

Around 11 percent of Veterans are estimated to meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. Among both male and female Veterans, alcohol and nicotine are most frequently used. Men are more likely than women to experience problem drug use, both among Veterans and in the general population. Prescription drug misuse is also on the rise among Veterans. 

Unmarried Veterans and younger Veterans are at greater risk for addiction. This is not particularly surprising, as young, unmarried males also make up a larger percentage of the general population that struggles with addiction.

Barriers to Treatment for Veterans with Substance Use Disorders 

Unfortunately, several things can get in the way of Veterans getting the help they need and deserve. According to the VA Office of Rural Health, around 41 percent of the Veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare system are rural. This can impact their access to care, especially to mental health services. Telehealth and in-person services in more remote locations can be ways of circumventing this problem.

The military’s culture of hypermasculinity and self-reliance may also make it more difficult for Veterans to seek out treatment for addiction and mental illness. They may view themselves as weak for needing help or worry that others will perceive them as weak.

Another challenge to effectively treating Veterans is the stigma associated with seeking out treatment. It has been recommended that instead of Veterans being referred to “addiction clinics” for substance use treatment, that the locations be described as “mental health clinics.” 

Impact of Substance Misuse

Not only can heavy alcohol use take a toll on the physical health of Veterans, but it can also worsen the symptoms of existing mental health disorders. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), around 63 percent of recent Afghanistan and Iraq war Veterans diagnosed with substance use disorders also meet the criteria for PTSD.

The NIH also reports that opioid drugs are more often prescribed for Veterans who have co-occurring mental health concerns, which increases their risk of emergency room and inpatient hospital admissions, opioid-related accidents and overdoses, and injuries related to violence. Additionally, Veterans with dual diagnoses are at greater risk for seizures, liver disease, HIV, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorder.

Tactical Recovery

Safe Harbor Recovery Center is PsychArmor certified to provide care built around the unique needs of Veterans and their loved ones. Our Tactical Recovery program intentionally includes Veterans and people in long-term recovery on our staff to ensure we offer the expertise that only lived experience can provide. We also welcome service dogs in our facilities.

Our treatment program includes medication-assisted treatment (MAT) as needed, mental health counseling, addiction counseling, and 12-step programming. We are proud to partner with Veterans and their support systems to assist them in their recovery journey.