Addiction and Veterans: Prescription Drug Availability

Veterans suffer from addiction and alcoholism at an alarming rate, but perhaps more alarming is the widespread availability of drugs that veterans have access to. This includes street drugs like cocaine and meth, but it also includes prescription drugs that many vets can easily obtain despite their predisposed, high-risk nature to substance abuse and drug addiction. Understanding this phenomenon is essential to getting American veterans the help they need, when they need it.

The main problem with veterans and the easy availability of prescription drugs is the fact that they often suffer from both physical pain and emotional disturbances. This includes battle injuries and related emotional scarring, often referred to as PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, other emotional disorders can be present as well, including depression and anxiety.

In order to treat the pain of their injuries, many veterans are given prescription painkillers, but the fact that they also have emotional problems means that abuse and addiction is much more likely for this group of veterans than the general public or other veterans. In an article on the subject for the Associated Press, Lindsey Tanner writes;

“These vets are at high risk for drug and alcohol abuse, but they’re two times more likely to get prescriptions for addictive painkillers than vets with only physical pain, according to the study, billed as the first national examination of the problem. Iraq and Afghanistan vets with PTSD who already had substance abuse problems were four times more likely to get these drugs than vets without mental health problems, according to the study.” (1)

But despite the fact that these veterans are at high risk for substance abuse, dependency and outright addiction, many doctors will still prescribe opiates and other types of painkillers to them in order to alleviate their pain. Additionally, veterans have access to health care in a way that many Americans do not and can readily obtain treatment from a variety of sources without much regulation between factions. This means that a vet can get a prescription for Valium from their psychiatrist and one for Hydrocodone from their physician. When combined with emotional imbalances, these types of drugs can be extremely dangerous.

Adding to these very real risks is the fact that military communities often have an unspoken code of conduct that precludes “complaining” about problems – emotional or physical. The general idea is that military members are tough and don’t need any special treatment for anything. And while these may be mostly self-imposed rules of conduct, many in the civilian world share these beliefs as well.

Ultimately, veterans may be our most vulnerable group when it comes to addiction and alcoholism. It doesn’t make them any less tough and it doesn’t detract in the slightest from a vet’s heroism when they suffer from physical pain, emotional disorders, and even addiction. If you or someone you love is a veteran afflicted by this disease, you can get help right now. Just pick up the phone and call the number at the top of your screen for a free, confidential consultation. The ravages of war are terrible enough – let’s work together to prevent and stop the ravages of drug addiction. Call us now.

(1) Tanner, Lyndsey Vets prone to drug addiction get risky painkillers Times Herald.COM 03/07/2012

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