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Veterans and Substance Abuse

Veterans Suffer from Substance Use

According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), clinicians are writing quadruple the number of prescriptions for our military veterans than they were in 2001—approximately 3.8 million.[1] It is a common fact that many veterans return home with medical problems and psychiatric disorders, all of which are severe enough to require medicine.1. Unfortunately, the amount of prescription painkillers that is being prescribed is leading to an increase in substance use disorders in our veterans—adding to the amount of treatment needed for this population.1

Medical and Psychiatric Problems Suffered by Veterans

The common medical and psychiatric issues suffered by our veterans are chronic pain due to injury, anxiety, trauma, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and sleep disturbances.1 Comorbid conditions are the rule rather than the exception. As many veterans’ diagnoses are severe, it is difficult for them to function as a civilian again, leaving them without a job, homeless, and looking to self-medicate.1 This is where substance abuse comes in. Alcohol, drugs, prescription painkillers all numb the pain of their current situation and their untreated diagnoses.1 In fact, since 2006, the number of soldiers who enrolled in the Army’s substance abuse programs increased by 40 percent.1 More than 40 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan sought treatment from a Veterans Administration hospital after returning home.[2] This doesn’t include those of other wars or those who sought help elsewhere or did not seek help at all.2

VeteransVeterans and Chronic Pain

Regarding chronic pain, to accommodate the 40 percent or more who have been diagnosed with such over the past ten years, the military has spent over $1.6 billion of prescription painkillers.1 The NIDA continues to research prevention, diagnosis and treatment strategies for our veterans, in order to cut back on addiction.1

However, oftentimes, chronic pain is found to be comorbid with a psychiatric disorder. The Army Office of the Surgeon General recently stated: “There are a number of medications that are critical in the treatment of [these] conditions. Medication for these issues may be in tandem with cognitive behavioral therapy or other treatment. Treatment for our soldiers has to be individualized.”1 Just a bottle of pills isn’t going to help our veterans get better—from what they have gone through, full treatment is needed.1 This will help cut back on addiction and mental health disorders.

Researchers at the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center are also working on treatment strategies, stating: “[Soldiers] will require increased allocation of resources for better detection and early intervention to prevent chronic mental illness, which threatens individual veterans, their families, and their communities.”2

As many are currently not receiving the treatment needed, the number of prescriptions written is not currently completely accurate, but is known to be approximately 3.8 million or higher. Unfortunately, this is the price of war.


[1] Estavillo, S. (2013, February 13). The Deadly Rise of Prescription Drug Abuse in the Military. ABC. Retrieved February 21, 2013, from http://www.myabc50.com/news/local/story/The-Deadly-Rise-of-Prescription-Drug-Abuse-in-the/6fG7mvBNTUKhDTOAlavQfQ.cspx

[2] Central News Editor. (2009, July 18). Veterans’ Mental Health Concerns Rising. Psych Central News. Retrieved February 21, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2009/07/18/veterans-mental-health-concerns-rising/7199.html veterans.

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