Military Veterans and Addiction

September 9th, 2021

As we approach the anniversary of September 11th, 2001, many of us are prone to think of our honorable members of the armed forces who everyday are waking up and choosing to fight for our country. We especially think of those brave men and women, as we understand how deep their struggles go when they return back to civilian life.

Not only do many of our nation’s first responders and military veterans battle with mental health issues like anxiety, depression and PTSD, but many of them end up battling with substance abuse issues as well. Many first responders have unresolved trauma and often end up self-medicating with alcohol or other substances.

Members of the armed forces are not immune to the substance use problems that affect the rest of society. Although illicit drug use is lower among U.S. military personnel than among civilians, heavy alcohol and tobacco use, and especially prescription drug abuse, are much more prevalent and are on the rise.

Research on military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that both deployments and exposure to combat are correlated with increased alcohol intake, binge drinking, and other alcohol-related problems. In 2015, 30% of active-duty service members were binge drinkers. More than 5% were heavy drinkers. In the Marine Corps specifically, nearly half of these service members engaged in disordered or hazardous drinking.

When it comes to illicit drugs, the military has a zero-tolerance for illicit drug use. Testing positive for an illegal substance on a random drug screen may result in a dishonorable discharge and potential criminal charges. Because of the very active and strenuous nature of work that occurs in many active-duty military personnel, and of course combat, there is an increased risk of physical injury. Treatment for injuries often involves prescription opioids, pain-killing medications with a high potential for misuse and abuse.6 Misuse of prescribed pain medication may lead to an opioid use disorder.

Many veterans have unique issues related to pain management, with two-thirds reporting they experience pain. More than 9% reported that they experience severe pain, compared to only 6.4% of non-veterans, putting them at higher risk for accidental opioid pain reliever overdoses. From 2001 to 2009, the percent of veterans in the VHA system receiving an opioid prescription increased from 17% to 24%. Similarly, the overall opioid overdose rates of veterans increased to 21% in 2016 from 14% in 2010. However, the overdose increases were mostly from heroin and synthetic opioids, and not from opioids taken for pain relief.

Of course there are many reasons why and how someone begins to battle substance abuse of any kind. For our service and armed forces members, we understand that they have been through so much and may be at a higher risk to develop an unhealthy addiction of some kind.

In order to offer help to the families of first responders, our therapists are trained to understand the different dynamic of living with a first responder. We understand that being the loved one of a first responder comes with its challenges as well, from accepting a less than ordinary work schedule, living life with an expectation of perfectionism, and often communication issues amongst family members due to the need to stay tough and never show weakness. Windmill Wellness Ranch is here to treat you and your family.