Veterans, considering the traumatic situations with which they are faced during touring, are more likely to fall victim to substance abuse as a means of coping. Mental injuries can leave soldiers with permanent damage and no sight on how to treat it. Among others, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury are the most common mental injuries sustained during service. While veterans are considered a high-risk group for substance abuse, they are not completely to blame. Alternative treatment for mental and physical injuries can become costly and therefore, physicians most often prescribe medications to treat conditions such as chronic pain and depression.
Pain Killers and Drug Abuse
A report by the American Public Health Association confirms that patients in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals are twice as often the victims of drug overdose than the national average. Opioids, such as morphine, oxycodone, and methadone, are the most frequently misused and abused drugs by patients. Opioids are psychoactive drugs than alter the way the way the brain perceives pain, therefore alleviating severe discomfort quickly and effectively. Since the drug alters both a person’s mental and physical state, it is not uncommon for users to develop dependencies. Many addictions begin after a severe injury or incident where a patient is prescribed medications to treat pain and are unable to discontinue usage after the allotted time. If the medication does not seem effective, physicians may prescribe increased dosages and further treatment, which increases a users chance for developing addictions or overdose.
Veteran Alcohol Abuse
Much more common than drug abuse, veterans have also shown increased rates of binge drinking. The military claims that alcohol abuse is the most serious of substance abuse issues concerning veterans. Many soldiers abuse alcohol as a coping mechanism for mental health issues that require attention but might not always receive it. Studies show that a staggering 42 percent of reserve soldiers, and 20 percent of active soldiers, require mental health services.
Findings of the Millennium Cohort Study
Due to the prevalence of alcohol and prescription drug abuse found in today’s veteran population, a large-scale 21 year study has been undertaken to investigate the specific causes and potential solutions for this abuse. This study is known as the Millennium Cohort Study, as it began in 2001 and will run until 2022. It is the largest study of its kind that has ever been undertaken. The study follows a large sampling of military personnel and monitors their behavior.
Although the study is not yet complete, certain trends have been isolated over the first ten years of the Millennium Cohort Study. Researchers have noted that younger service members who deploy and see active combat are more likely than other military personnel to turn to drinking. This same group of service members is reported to binge drink on a regular basis. Additionally, research compiled in the Millennium Cohort Study has led to innovative new approaches for monitoring and preventing drug abuse by veterans.
Veteran Substance Abuse and Drug Courts
In an effort to keep nonviolent drug offenders out of prison, a number of drug courts have been established across the US. Currently, there are 65 drug courts in 20 states, which exclusively work with the veteran population. The aim of these courts is to address nonviolent crimes that have been committed by veteran drug abusers and try to move these individuals into treatment programs as opposed to sending them to jail.