This Memorial Day, millions of American families will take time to honor the memory of the men and women who lost their lives fighting in one of the nation’s wars. It can be a challenging day for veterans and their families.
It can be particularly challenging for veterans who made it home but are now battling a substance use disorder or mental illness. Too many veterans struggle with drug addiction.
In Oklahoma are over 290,000 veterans, most of whom are wartime vets. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 3.9 million veterans nationally have a substance use disorder or mental illness.
Additionally, substance use disorders significantly increase suicidality among veterans ages 18 and older. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are also common among veterans ages 18 to 49.
“Early intervention saves lives, and it works. Yet, too many veterans fall through the cracks and lose their life because of overdose or suicide,” said Michael Leach of Addicted.org.
Numerous causative factors lead to substance use within the veteran community. Many veterans struggle to adjust to civilian life. They may experience financial hardships, difficulty finding employment, or accessing benefits.
Veterans also struggle with mental and emotional health problems because of past service. This could also be compounded with physical injury or chronic pain leading to pain medication use.
Untreated trauma alone can lead to drug and alcohol abuse to cope with unwanted feelings.
There are also barriers when accessing treatment, such as cost and gaps in health insurance. Stigma regarding mental health and addiction is still prominent. Veterans living in rural areas have limited access to help. Communities often experience inadequate funding.
Besides the standard help provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA Facility locator, other support options include:
• The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs provides resources and services to veterans;
• Helpful hotlines include the Veteran Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, and the Lifeline for Vets, 1-888-777-4443;
• SAMHSA has a treatment facility locator where veterans can find specific resources for substance use treatment.
Families also play a significant role when supporting their loved ones. It’s OK to express concern about their drug and alcohol use. Speak to them openly and honestly about their substance use. Help them find treatment. Be patient and show compassion.
Communities and families that come together make a significant difference. There is help available, and substance use and mental disorders are treatable.
Veronica Raussin is a Community Outreach Coordinator for Addicted.org, passionate about spreading awareness of the risks and dangers of alcohol and drug use.