Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) and substance use disorders (SUDs) are common among veterans. While the military has a strict policy on illicit drug use, it does provide access to prescription medications, such as oxycodone, to treat pain. In addition, being part of a military family often includes celebrating successes and drinking. Read on learn some of the more common causes of addiction in veterans.
What Is Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic disease and medical condition often accompanied by the compulsion to seek alcohol or drugs and continue to drink or use drugs regardless of its negative impacts on one’s health and relationships. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is a brain disorder since it causes changes in how the brain functions.
Why Is Addiction Considered a Disease?
Addiction is a disease because it affects the health and well-being of the individual. Like other diseases, such as heart disease, the condition worsens without treatment. In addition, as addiction worsens, it can cause co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression.
What Causes Addiction in Veterans?
There is not a single cause for addiction in veterans or anyone else, for that matter. Anyone can develop an addiction from continued use of alcohol and drugs. One underlying contributing factor is how one feels when under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
For example, alcohol and many illicit and prescription drugs force an increase in various neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. Both dopamine and serotonin lead to feeling good, pleasure, calmness, and happiness.
Furthermore, alcohol and other substances also alter GABA and slow the transmission of signals between the brain and other parts of the body. As a result, drinking or using drugs becomes a desired behavior. Unfortunately, this leads to the brain craving alcohol or drugs so the person can experience the pleasurable responses again.
Other factors can also increase the risk of veterans developing an addiction, including the following:
Exposure to Traumatic Events and Experiences
Some veterans experience traumatic events and experiences that they cannot process and deal with their emotions fully. Some of the more common types of trauma veterans can include terrorism, death, sexual abuse, and physical abuse.
Drinking and using drugs are common coping methods because they can make the person feel more “normal” when they cannot deal with the trauma. Unfortunately, as a result, they can develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
There Is a Family History of AUD or SUD
Another contributing factor that can cause addiction in veterans and other individuals is when there is a family history of AUD or SUD. For example, when someone’s parents drink or use drugs, that constant exposure leads to a higher risk of developing AUD or SUD themselves.
In addition, certain genetic traits get passed down, increasing the risks of AUD and SUD. For instance, when someone’s parent has AUD and passes down genetic traits to their children, their children can have a higher tolerance to alcohol.
As such, they have to drink much more to experience the effects of alcohol. Unfortunately, this can eventually lead to alcohol dependence and addiction.
The Military Environment
The military environment one experiences can influence and contribute towards AUD and SUD. For example, if most of the people in one’s platoon or company drink regularly to alleviate stress and “let off steam,” one could be encouraged to engage in this practice and eventually view it as a normal practice.
Furthermore, binge drinking can be a problem in the military as personnel do not always have free time to drink and socialize daily. So, when they do, they drink as much as possible, as fast as they can. Continued binge drinking can increase the risk of developing AUD.
Undiagnosed Mental Health Disorder
Veteran alcohol use can relate to having an undiagnosed mental health disorder. In the military, people learn to not show signs of weakness or vulnerability. This can be further reinforced, especially in young men raised with the same ideals.
When someone has ADHD, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or a personality disorder, sharing feelings may feel weak. So, instead of seeking help and getting a diagnosis for their condition, they turn to alcohol. Once they leave the service, they could also turn to drugs when alcohol is no longer effective.
Inability to Cope with Civilian Life
Some veterans have a difficult time returning to civilian life. They are used to sticking to a routine where they get up, fulfill their assigned tasks, and so on. However, after they return home, they will have lots of free time to figure out what to do next.
In addition, it is not uncommon for veterans to have relationship issues because they do not know how to relate to friends and family members. They are more used to the camaraderie they experienced in their platoon and company. Additionally, they did not have to share their feelings, so opening up can be very challenging. Sadly, if they have a drinking problem, it can lead to growing more reliant on alcohol to cope.
Addiction Treatment for Veterans in Murfreesboro, TN
If you are having difficulties after returning home from the military, you are not alone. At Tulip Hill in Murfreesboro, TN, we are here to help with our addiction and co-occurring disorder treatment programs. Contact us today.