The ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to take their toll upon our soldiers, returning veterans, as well as their families. It’s especially hard on those who have experienced long or multiple deployments in these regions. It is quite common for these soldiers to experience post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, as well as depression and excessive anxiety.
Treatment often involves the use of addictive prescription narcotics, and those not receiving adequate treatment often seek other means of relief. Drug and alcohol consumption is on the rise among our veterans – even while the rate of use is far below that of the civilian population.
Here are some quick statistics to give you an idea of the severity of the problem:
- There are 5.2 million soldiers who served during the Gulf War
- 1 in 3 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will face a major psychological injury
- 300,000 troops have been to the Middle East at least 3 times. This increases the rate of combat stress by 50%
- Only 50% of those diagnosed with PTSD seek help
- 1 soldier commits suicide every day
There are multiple factors that can bring about addictive behaviors such as PTSD, pain, noise shock, as well as visual atrocities that our soldiers see and often cannot forget. The soldier becomes anxious and fearful and can develop sleep disturbances and overwhelming feelings of hopelessness.
Since it is common in our society to say “have a drink and relax” or “take one of these pills to relax,” a veteran may feel comfortable doing so. Initially that drink or pill does provide relief from their anxious or painful state. However, it soon becomes short-lived, and the veteran requires either more alcohol or pills to achieve a state of relief. This is where the dependency and abuse become a major factor in their daily lives. At this point they no longer believe that they can be happy without either alcohol or pills.
Unfortunately, it usually ends up where both substances become necessary for our veterans to reach a place of false contentment. Thus begins the never-ending quest to maintain that level of oblivion. Anyone who has experienced this cycle will readily tell you that these “downers” will eventually send you spiraling downwards into the pits of despair.
It is also noteworthy to say that if you observe any unusual behavior in your soldier, spouse, or children, immediately contact your local VA and seek out information and treatments available in your locality. It is often forgotten that families that remain at home while one parent is deployed also undergo a large amount of stress and worry. This can unwittingly cause a dependence on one or more substances.
As a nation, it is our responsibility to guide our veterans and their families to whatever forms of support they may need. We need to keep encouraging returning soldiers to take advantage of the many resources that are available!