Rehab 4 Addiction

Over the years, research 1 has found that people who have served in the armed forces are not only more likely to develop substance use disorders (SUDs) than those who haven’t, but they are also less likely to seek treatment.

In fact, many 2 do not realise that their substance use has become an issue until later in life when their drinking or drug use has started to cause health issues.

Veterans and Substance Use

Alcohol consumption by those in the armed forces can start off as seemingly harmless. Because group drinking has long been seen as part of the military culture, new recruits are sometimes encouraged to drink alcohol to try and fit in or may drink in order to calm their nerves.

However, alcohol use can quickly become problematic, especially once someone develops a dependency on it. This is where they start to crave alcohol or find that they need to have a drink first thing in the morning to help them face the day.

Those who have served in the armed services and have seen active combat are more likely to drink excessively than those who haven’t.

This could be due to a number of factors, from mental health issues that have arisen from traumatic deployments to self-medicating for the pain caused by injuries sustained in combat.

Because alcohol is a depressant, some turn to it as a way to counteract the hyperarousal (extreme anxiety, or heightened “fight-or-flight” response) that comes with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In 2017, the Ministry of Defence completed a study 3 which found that 63% of the armed forces personnel questioned were potentially at an increased risk of alcohol-related harm.

If more than half of the entire armed forces were to develop an alcohol dependency or addiction, this could have a staggering effect on both the efficiency of the service and on the NHS.

The government is therefore determined to do more to support those in active duty, and those who have retired, in improving their relationships with alcohol.

The British Armed Forces have a zero-tolerance drug policy. People in the armed forces, including those in reserve units, are routinely drug tested by the Armed Forces Compulsory Drug Testing team.

However, there has been an increasing number of people in the armed forces who have developed addictions to prescribed medications, and this is not always flagged by drug testing.

As with alcohol, there is a number of reasons why someone who has served would misuse drugs, including to help with long-term anxiety and depression, or for immediate relief when experiencing grief.

Given the strict drug policies, people in the military who are losing control of their drug use can be reluctant to seek help. They may fear being judged by their peers, or may even be worried that they will be dismissed from service altogether.

Even people with drug addictions who have already left service can be hesitant to reach out, as they don’t want to admit to having a problem. Regardless of where you are in your career, it is always recommended that you ask for support when combating addiction.

Mental Health and Substance Use

Given the many stresses that come from serving in the military, mental health struggles are common among veterans 4.

Substance use then becomes more likely, as some of the prescribed medications for depression and anxiety can be addictive, and people might also try to self-medicate with recreational drugs. T

hose who have served are also at a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, even years after their service has ended.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder occurring as a result of severe trauma and can manifest with symptoms of anxiety, depression, hyperarousal, and insomnia, which can all have a serious impact on day-to-day life.

Psychological trauma is an all-too-common experience for those in active duty in the armed forces, and so there is a particularly high incidence of PTSD in those who have experienced combat.

More than 2 out of 10 5 veterans who have PTSD also seek treatment for substance abuse, whether that be alcohol, prescription drugs, or recreational drugs.

Drug and Alcohol Treatment for Veterans

Regardless of the cause of the addiction, treatment is available. Both the British Armed Forces and the NHS have a number of support services on offer to those who are struggling with addiction, with specialists available who understand the different challenges that veterans face.

Someone currently in the armed forces might not feel comfortable disclosing their addiction to anyone directly linked to their service, and so might hesitate to seek help at all. What is important to remember is that, no matter what career path you take, everyone deserves to be supported in their recovery.

Because drug and alcohol abuse is often so closely linked to mental health, many treatment centres focus on “dual-diagnosis” treatment, where both conditions are looked at together.

Understanding the relationship between a person’s substance use and their mental health is important for creating a treatment plan that meets the needs of each individual.

Depending on where you are in your recovery, it may be suggested that you temporarily enter a live-in rehabilitation centre. These are centres that specialise in supporting addiction recovery for veterans.

There, you would be supported through the detox period and attend regular therapy sessions to improve your overall mood and wellbeing.

Alternatively, you could opt to attend regular counselling sessions, and gradually wean yourself off drugs or alcohol. Many people find this to be more difficult than entering a rehab centre, as it puts all of the responsibility on you, and the risk of relapse can be higher.

There are also mutual support groups available for veterans struggling with addiction, as well as for the family members of those who struggle with addiction.

Support group meetings offer an opportunity for peers to come together and share their experiences with addiction so that they can help others in their recovery.

References

1: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5587184/

2: https://www.mdpi.com/2077-0383/5/11/95

3: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/630184/20170718_Alcohol_Usage_bulletin__-_O.pdf

4: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/892426/20200618_Annual_Report_19-20_O.pdf

5: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/related/substance_abuse_vet.asp