Substance abuse and mental health issues affect countless veterans nationwide. The addiction may develop while they are still serving, discharged, or retired. It can be difficult for families to know where to get help or to understand how this might happen.
In North Carolina, there are over 700,000 veterans, most of whom are war veterans. According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, more than 3.9 million veterans nationwide suffer from a substance use disorder or mental illness.
Unfortunately, substance use disorders significantly increase suicidal tendencies among veterans aged 18 and older. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are also common among veterans between the ages of 18 and 49.
“There are many causal factors that lead to drug and alcohol use among veterans, but it can be treated, and families should always remember that,” said Michael Leach of Addicted.org.
Many returning veterans find it difficult to adjust to civilian life. They may experience financial hardship, have difficulty finding a job or accessing benefits. Countless other veterans struggle with mental and emotional health issues.
This can often be aggravated by physical injury or chronic pain, leading to the use of opioid painkillers. Untreated trauma, for example, and dealing with unwanted feelings affect all aspects of life. It also leads to the use of drugs and alcohol as a means of coping.
Veterans also face many barriers when accessing treatment. This may include the cost of treatment or gaps in health insurance. The mental health stigma associated with addiction continues to be problematic. Veterans living in rural areas often have limited access to treatment.
However, in addition to the standard support options through the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA Facility Locator, other support includes:
— The North Carolina Department of Military and Veterans Affairs provides support and services to veterans and their families;
– Carolinas Veterans Services supports veterans and their families in North Carolina communities;
— Useful hotlines include the Veterans Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, and the Veterinarians Lifeline, 1-888-777-4443;
– SAMHSA has a treatment facility locator to help veterans find specific treatment options in North Carolina.
Families play a vital role in supporting a loved one struggling with addiction. It’s normal to express concerns about their drug or alcohol use. Talk to them openly and honestly about their addiction. Help them find treatment, but be patient and compassionate.
It is also normal for communities and families to come together and advocate for more resources, because it is never too late to offer a helping hand. Too many veterans silently struggle with addictions and mental health issues; it’s time to change that.
Veronica Raussin is Community Outreach Coordinator for Addicted.org, passionate about raising awareness of the risks and dangers of alcohol and drug use.