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Are Veterans Becoming Addicted to Opioids?

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According to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Centers for Disease Control, veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die from an opioid overdose than the civilian population. In addition, approximately two thirds of veterans have chronic pain that requires pain management. Unfortunately, from 2001 to 2009, military doctors wrote almost 3.8 million prescriptions for opioids, more than quadrupling the number written in 2001, resulting in an increase in veterans addicted to opioids.

The Importance of National Veterans and Military Families Month

November is National Veterans and Military Families Month. The Department of Defense (DOD) recognizes the important role families play in providing support for transitioning veterans. The month-long recognition aims to increase awareness of new programs and other resources available to military families and veterans.  

Some of these programs provide support for family members and veterans struggling with pain and opioid use disorders. They can provide access to resources to better help families understand what they can do to support their loved ones and encourage and support addiction recovery without becoming an enabler. 

Why Do Veterans Abuse Opioids? 

Most veterans do not intentionally misuse opioids. Instead, the misuse of opioids comes about gradually as a result of being prescribed opioids to treat pain and related injuries once the veteran returns home from active duty. Since most veterans experience chronic pain, the use of opioids long-term results in dependence. 

Unfortunately, the longer opioids are taken, the body builds up a tolerance to them. So, the veteran taking the prescription drugs starts to notice their pain is not subsiding. So, sadly, they start self-regulating their dosage and increasing it until their pain subsides. 

Gradually, from self-medicating, the dependence on opioids becomes an addiction. At this point, they may take substantial doses of opioids and believe they cannot function without them. Some veterans may also turn to street opioids when they cannot get the number of prescription drugs needed to support their addiction. 

Veteran Opioid Addiction Statistics

In 2013, the VA launched an Opioid Safety Initiative to address the increase in opioid misuse by veterans. With the launch of the new initiative, the VA successfully reduced the number of prescription opioids being administered to veterans from more than 679,000 in 2012 to around 247,000 in 2020 – a reduction of 64 percent. 

Even with these efforts, the rate of opioid overdoses rose 53 percent from 2010 to 2019. Unfortunately, veterans are still twice as likely to overdose from opioids compared to the civilian population.  

How Are Veterans Being Impacted by the Opioid Epidemic?

The opioid epidemic is impacting veterans due to the accessibility of prescription opioids in the civilian sector. Even if they cannot obtain them through the VA, they can still get them through civilian healthcare providers. In addition, street opioids are often easily obtainable when one knows where to look. 

Veterans with opioid use disorders often have the following in common:

  • They deployed multiple times. 
  • They witnessed combat or some other highly traumatic experience. 
  • They exhibit the signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, or PTSD. 

Since the military has strict drug abuse policies, active duty service personnel turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism. As a result, they often develop addictive tendencies while on active duty. In addition, they have access to prescription opioids to treat pain while on active duty. 

Once they leave active duty and transition to veteran status, they will have already laid the groundwork for substance misuse. Unfortunately, substance misuse often becomes more prevalent since veterans no longer have to adhere to active-duty drug abuse policies.  

Signs Veterans Are Becoming Addicted to Opioids

Some specific signs and symptoms indicate veterans are becoming addicted to opioids, including the following:

  • Self-regulating opioid drug use.
  • Losing interest in hobbies and activities once enjoyed.
  • Associating with other people who misuse substances.
  • Isolating from family and friends.
  • Lack of personal hygiene. 
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss. 
  • Attempting to obtain multiple prescriptions of opioids.
  • Stealing opioids from others.
  • Exhibiting flu-like symptoms.
  • Impaired thinking, concentration, and focus.
  • Making rash and impulsive decisions.
  • Having financial problems.
  • Frequent mood swings.
  • Easily irritated or angered.
  • Depression and paranoia.
  • Engaging in drug-seeking behaviors.
  • Substituting prescription opioids with street opioids. 

How to Help Veterans Addicted to Opioids

Opioid use disorder is a disease that is treatable when you or a veteran you care about wants help. However, you should never force veterans addicted to opioids to seek treatment, as they will usually relapse. 

For detox and addiction treatment to be successful, one must be willing and ready to seek help for their opioid addiction. As a family member of a veteran, you can educate yourself about addiction and what you can do to encourage your loved one to seek treatment. 

You can also join family support groups and go to individual counseling to learn how to avoid enabling your loved one’s addiction. In addition, you could have an interventionist stage an intervention to make your loved one more aware of how their addiction impacts your family. 

Opioid Detox and Addiction Treatment for Veterans in Murfreesboro, TN 

Tulip Hill in Murfreesboro, TN, supports and assists veterans addicted to opioids and their families. We offer medically supervised detox with customizable treatment plans for opioid use disorder and co-occurring disorders. To learn more about opioid addiction or to start detox and addiction treatment, contact us today. 

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