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At No Fallen Heroes we are dedicated to the health and wellbeing of veterans and specifically to the prevention of veteran suicide. One of the factors that increases the risk of suicide is substance abuse among veterans. Substance abuse disorders are a significant problem among veterans and their incidence continues to rise despite efforts by the Veterans Administration and other agencies. One of the new possibilities in dealing with substance abuse, depression, and PTSD in veterans is the use of psychedelic medicines.

Conditions Related to Veteran Substance Abuse

As noted in a published review of substance abuse, substance abuse does not stand alone as a problem for veterans. It is related to and/or causes medical problems, other mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, impaired ability to work and maintain employment, damaged interpersonal relationships, and both thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts. Studies have shown that roughly thirty percent of suicides were preceded by use of drugs, alcohol, or both. Additionally, high risk behaviors that are not necessarily done with the intent of committing suicide also result in deaths and in veterans about twenty percent of these are preceded by drinking or drugs.  

Conditions Related to Veteran Substance Abuse
Conditions Related to Veteran Substance Abuse

Why Do Veterans Do Harmful Things?

In the cases of alcohol and drugs a little bit is recreation and socialization and a lot becomes harmful. In the military we train to do the things that we need to do and to do them effectively. Unfortunately, many veterans suffer from depression, excessive anxiety, social isolation and when they drink or take drugs they temporarily feel better. Thus, it makes sense (in a way) to keep doing what seems to work. Sadly, one of the greatest risk factors for suicide, veteran or otherwise, is when man in his forties is divorced or out of an important relationship he may begin to drink to “treat” his sense of loss and depression. This greatly increases his risk of suicidal thinking and suicide attempts. The greater the sense of enjoyment of drugs or alcohol the greater the risk of suicide.

Dealing With Veteran Substance Abuse

The first step in dealing with veteran substance abuse it identifying those at risk. About eleven percent of veterans using the VA health care system for the first time fit the criteria for substance abuse. Because not all vets use the VA system for their health care this number is likely low. Nevertheless, alcohol and drug abuse are higher among male than female veterans. Younger and unmarried male veterans have the highest rates.

Combat and deployment experience are strong factors in the development of substance abuse as are problems reintegrating into civilian society, finding and keeping employment, and maintenance of family and social relationships during the period of returning to stable civilian life. It is important to remember that non-veterans have problems with substance abuse too and the same predisposing factors that affect non-veterans are often carried into and out of military life by veterans. These include histories of child physical or sexual abuse, family history of drug and alcohol use, and unstable social and family situations.

Dealing With Veteran Substance Abuse
Dealing With Veteran Substance Abuse

How Does Use Differ From Abuse With Drugs or Alcohol?

The short answer to this question is that when use of drugs or alcohol causes recurring problems in the person’s life and they continue to use them, that is abuse. Clinicians use a checklist and require two or more positives to declare substance abuse.

  • Using the substance in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts or persistent desire to reduce use
  • Too much time spent on obtaining, using, and/or recovering from the effects of the substance
  • A strong craving for the substance
  • Significant interference with roles at work, school, or home
  • Continued use despite recurrent social or interpersonal consequences
  • Reducing or giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of the substance use
  • Substance use in situations in which it may be physically hazardous
  • Substance use despite recurrent or persistent physical or psychological consequences
  • Tolerance of the substance
  • Withdrawal from the substance

Point of all this is that substance abuse destroys lives and is a factor in veteran suicide. Successful intervention in cases of substance abuse has been shown to decrease the incidence of suicide among veterans.

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