Substance use disorder (SUD) is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as "a treatable mental health disorder that affects a person's brain and behavior, leading to their inability to control their use of substances like legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or medications."
Research has shown that Veterans are more likely to have a SUD compared to civilians, and there are a handful of factors that play into the proven statistics. Here are several reasons why Veterans are at a higher risk for developing a substance use disorder:
Heightened stress levels and trauma
Heightened stress levels from contributing factors such as harsh environments, poor sleep quality, and traumatic events can lead Veterans to cope through substances.
PTSD, anxiety, and depression are three of the most common mental health conditions that Veterans face. Alcohol is the most frequently abused substance by Veterans, with 65% of those who entered a treatment program identifying it as their most frequently misused substance.
Combating stress in your morning routine and incorporating mindfulness practices are two simple yet effective ways to begin reducing stress symptoms alongside consulting a licensed professional for more severe symptoms.
Physical injuries and long-term conditions
A career in the military places heightened physical demands on the body compared to many civilian careers. As a result, physical injuries and long-term conditions can cause pain and discomfort that can become a contributing factor to substance use disorders. Physical injuries from active duty and also conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are fairly common and can be classed as service-connected for Veterans.
Substances, whether used as a coping mechanism or developed due to a previous prescription such as an opioid, dependence and addiction can arise.
Co-occurring disorders are when there is a mental health condition and a substance use disorder occurring at the same time. The two conditions can contribute to each other, increasing symptoms and worsening them over time. The most common mental health conditions that Veterans face are often co-occurring when there is also a SUD.
A lack of accessibility in getting the help they deserve
Many Veterans experience trouble with the VA disability claims process, along with a general lack of access to resources for Veteran healthcare and mental health support. Untreated long-term conditions can have a serious impact – producing feelings of helplessness, oftentimes leading Veterans to cope through abusing substances to feel some type of relief.
Reading for someone you care about? See our other blog: 3 ways you can support the mental health of Veterans.
Help is just one call away
Need a Nexus Letter or DBQ? We're your people. Speak with one of our experts today to get a chart review, or take a look at our full list of services here to see how we can support you. With the right documentation and process, you can get the help you deserve.