Memorial Day is a national holiday, honoring the military heroes who lost their lives while serving our country. The day can typically consist of barbecuing, picnics and spending the day with friends and family. While this holiday focuses more particularly on the lives lost, which is meaningful in its own right, it is also important to draw attention to veterans and soldiers and their mental health. Witnessing and participating in all one does while engaged in war can have lasting effects on the individual, and this can manifest itself in coping in negative ways, like substance abuse.
The mental health condition most publicly associated with soldiers is PTSD. While engaging in combat is not the only reason someone can experience PTSD, the condition is often linked with military service. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, can present itself in a number of ways but has commonly been characterized as having nightmares or “flashbacks” as if you are reliving events. Additionally, PTSD can show as avoiding situations that can trigger memories of the event, becoming easily startled, and a loss of interest in activities.
People who experience PTSD sometimes turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to ease the pain and deal with their emotions. Turning to substances and abusing them as a means to cope with a complicated condition such as PTSD can lead to a complex dual diagnosis. As defined by DualDiagnosis.org, a dual diagnosis is the co-existence of a psychiatric disorder and an additive disorder. Additionally, the site reports that 52 percent of males and 28 percent of females with PTSD meet the lifetime criteria for alcohol abuse; 35 percent of men and 27 percent of women with PTSD meet the lifetime criteria for drug abuse.
Another element of veterans and PTSD to pay attention to is the reported amount of women who experience PTSD after not only serving in the military, but also after having experienced sexual abuse while in the military. AddictionCenter.com reports that 23 percent of these women have indicated experiencing sexual abuse while in the military.
Whereas some of these veterans could turn to illicit drugs or alcohol as a means to cope, unfortunately, the medicine they may be prescribed to alleviate their problems can be addictive. Veterans sometimes receive Lortab, Vicodin, or OxyContin for pain. Benzodiazepines like Valium, or Xanax, and sedatives such as Ambien, or Lunesta, can sometimes lead to a dependence on these medications. These medicines can be meant to help the veteran, but can lead to consequences that can be just as negative.
Veterans sacrifice much for our nation, and this can lead to complications later in life. We are grateful for all that they do and recognize the unique facets that can lead to their mental health conditions or substance abuse.
Tishanna Dillard, Marketing Operations Specialist
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