This guest blog is authored by Robert Yagoda, executive director of Beach House Center for Recovery, who brings more than 10 years of combined clinical and administrative experience in facility-delivered drug and dual diagnosis treatment. He provides his perspective on treating Veterans with dependency or mental health issues.

Illicit drug use among military personnel is actually quite low when compared to civilians: two percent to 12 percent respectively, according to a 2008 survey.

However, prescription drug use and binge drinking occurs at a much higher rate among Veterans and the numbers are growing, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In fact, a Department of Defense study found that prescription drug misuse occurs 2.5 times more often in Veterans than it does in civilians, as the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reported. Rates of alcoholism are high, too; NIDA reports that one in five military personnel say they binge drink every week in a given month. Among combat Veterans, that number is one in four.

This is due, in large part, to the high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder that occurs among Veterans. About 11-20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans are diagnosed with PTSD in a given year, and that’s on top of the other mental health issues they must deal with, including traumatic brain injury, depression, insomnia and more. These problems make it even harder for Veterans to readjust to civilian life and can lead Veterans to lose their jobs, lose their homes and damage their personal relationships.

Many Veterans are also suffering from severe physical injuries that cause chronic pain. By 2009, military doctors had written almost four million prescriptions to Veterans for painkillers to treat this discomfort, according to NIDA. Sadly, this unintentionally set off an epidemic among Servicemembers.

Desperate to ease their physical and emotional pain, these soldiers may go against their doctors’ orders and self-medicate with more prescription drugs and alcohol, addictive substances that can provide the dangerously false impression of reducing their symptoms. As a result, VA reports that more than two out of 10 Veterans with PTSD also have problems with substance abuse.

Veterans make up a unique class of addicts and alcoholics. They’ve witnessed terrible things that civilians only see on television or in movies; sometimes, they’ve even had a hand in them. And women in the military are at risk of sexual assault. Therefore, dependency treatment for Veterans must be different from the types of treatment utilized by civilians.

Doctors, especially military doctors and others who have direct experience with Veterans, need to remain involved in the treatment process at all levels. Because pain management is often still necessary even through the recovery process, only a trained physician can devise a pain management system that takes into account the soldier’s dependency issues.

Fortunately, both inpatient and outpatient treatment is available at VA centers across the country. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is also working to prevent and treat addiction among Veterans in a variety of ways. The organization provides a crisis hotline and is making an effort to establish additional programs at the state level. They’ve also established a database where Veterans can find the treatment options nearest to them.

Help can also be found at the community level. VFW halls often serve as meeting places for Alcoholics Anonymous and other support meetings, in addition to support groups that offer vets an open space for communication.

Lastly, education is key. Veterans need to be trained to spot the warning signs of addiction in their fellow servicemen and women, and in themselves as well. The sooner intervention occurs, the sooner a Veteran can receive the help they need.

image of Robert YagodaRobert Yagoda is a licensed mental health counselor and certified addictions professional. What motivates him most is seeing clients make groundbreaking strides in recovery, knowing he was part of their growth and success.


Share this story

Published on Dec. 14, 2016

Estimated reading time is 3.3 min.

Views to date: 46

One Comment

  1. Sheila Wadsworth December 26, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    My son, a Navy vet, was found dead December 2, 2016. His death was drug related. First, I want to acknowledge that he did make choices regarding his battle with drug dependency. But I would also like to thank the Navy and VA doctors who prescribed Tramadol for his ankle injury. And I truly want to thank pharmaceutical companies that peddled Tramadol, insisting it was not addictive. God bless you. When my son wasn’t always able to make it to the pain clinic at a VA hospital, because he worked in a remote town in northern Alaska, the VA stopped sending his Tramadol. He turned to Meth and Heroin. He was a functioning addict. I watched what drugs did to his mind, his logic and reasoning. Over the last year he attempted to get off the drugs, getting Gabapentin and Valium prescribed by a doctor at the nearest Emergency Department. Long story short, he died of what was likely an accidental overdose of of a dangerous mix of meth, Valium, fentanyl, and other drugs. I believe he was trying to get off the heroin, as he had told a friend Valium was the only thing that helped him. My point is this; CLEAN UP THE WAY YOU TREAT PAIN MANAGEMENT. STOP PRESCRIBING TRAMADOL. DO SOMETHING TO STOP THE DISASTROUS DRUG EPIDEMIC THAT IS DESTROYING LIVES AND FAMILIES.

Comments are closed.

More Stories

  • During Sickle Cell Awareness Month in September, the American Red Cross emphasizes the importance of a diverse blood supply to help meet the needs of those with sickle cell disease – the most common inherited blood disorder in the U.S.

  • CaringBridge, a free online tool to communicate health news to family and friends, is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

  • Shahpur Pazhman flew Black Hawk missions in 27 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, resupplying and relocating Afghan ground forces and evacuating casualties to safety. Thanks to Bridge My Return, he's back in the air.