Drug use is a problem in the veteran community. So are mental health issues from depression and PTSD to veteran suicide. Unfortunately, excessive drug use has adverse effects on veteran mental health. And when veteran mental health issues are not dealt with effectively the fallout can be severe including problems like the high rate of suicide in US military veterans. How are these issues related and what can be done to improve the situation?
Veteran Mental Health Is a Significant Issue
After twenty years of continuous warfare part of the fallout includes serious mental health problems among those who served the nation while in uniform. PTSD and depression are the most publicized but traumatic brain injury, higher amounts of interpersonal violence, and substance abuse are also problems. For many the worst time is when they are making the transition from military service to civilian life but for others the problems endure for years and years.
Veteran Drug Use Is a Problem
Those of us who are old enough remember the ads on TV comparing the frying of an egg in a frying pan to the effect on the brain of taking drugs. That visual analogy was perhaps a bit excessive but there really are lasting effects on the human brain of using drugs. The drugs we are referring to include meth, cocaine, heroin, marijuana and LSD as well as prescription opioids. The classifications of these drugs as depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, or narcotics refer to the short term effects. However, with repeated, frequent use these drugs create changes within the brain. Drugs that create their short term effect by causing the release of dopamine create a short term euphoria. However, the brain reacts by trying to correct the “imbalance” and reduces natural dopamine secretion. The result is a need to use the drugs again and again to do what the brain used to do normally to maintain mental health and a positive mood.
How Drug Use Relates to Veteran Mental Health
Some of these drugs create substance-related mental disorders like depression, psychosis, anxiety, and bipolar personality. Although these conditions typically return to normal with drug abstinence, they cause continuing problems with steady use. With long term use it can take as long as a year for drug-related mental disorders to go away. Many veterans, just like non-veterans, start using drugs for recreation but also as a way to self-medicate. Unfortunately, self-medication tends to worsen instead of improving mental health issues. For example, middle-aged men who lose their spouse become depressed and drink. This makes them more depressed and is a red flag warning for suicide risk.
Drug Addiction Treatment for Veterans
Veterans who qualify for care with the Veterans Administration qualify for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Alcohol and Drug Dependence Rehabilitation Program. This program offers social, vocational, medical, and rehabilitation therapies to eligible alcohol and drug dependent Veterans. This is a practical route for veterans to take if they are fighting addiction to drugs, provided that they can get into a program. Luckily, there are many other programs to help with drug addiction as well as 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous similar programs for drugs.
Does Drug Addiction Treatment Work?
The goal of drug treatment programs is not just to help the person quit using drugs but also to bring them back to be functional members of their workplace, family, and community. It is important that a person be matched correctly to the right type of treatment and that they stick with the program. That being the case, the majority of participants in such programs quit drug use, do better psychologically and socially, and cease any criminal behavior. Adjunctive treatment routes like methadone treatment for those addicted to opiates have been shown to be successful in substantially lowering drug use.
Eliminating Veteran Suicide
At No Fallen Heroes we are committed to the elimination of veteran suicide. To help those vets who need help it is necessary to find and deal with the root causes such as drug and alcohol addiction, depression, PTSD, traumatic brain syndrome, social isolation, employment issues, and difficulties in the transition from military to civilian life. Many veterans have to deal with several of these issues at once. Our goal is to help vets find the treatment that need and support new therapies such as psychedelic medicines which show so much promise for depression post-traumatic stress disorder.