Navy Veterans

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Substance Abuse and Dependency

The stresses of war and of military service in general manifest themselves in a number of ways, and many veterans look for avenues that allow them to escape these stresses. Some turn to drugs and alcohol to find relief from their disturbing post-war thoughts and feelings, choosing substances that dull their senses and lessen their troubling memories.

The Facts

While alcohol and drug dependency can happen to anyone, studies show that veterans, including Navy veterans, have a higher-that-normal tendency towards substance abuse. A report by military researchers at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, released in mid-2008, noted that “a significant number of U.S. veterans back from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan begin abusing alcohol after returning, perhaps to cope with traumatic memories of combat.”

The researchers surveyed 48,400 service members before (between 2001 and 2003) and after deployment (2004 to 2006) in order to identify heavy drinkers, binge drinkers, or those with alcohol-related problems. Of all the interview subjects, 5,500 had experienced combat and were interviewed about a year after their return. Combat veterans were 31 percent more likely to have begun binge drinking than those not exposed to combat, the study pointed out. In addition, six percent of returning combat veterans started a new habit of heavy weekly drinking and 5 percent developed a drinking-related problem.

While the drug abuse rates are not as high, experts point out that among those who abused drugs before entering the military, stress caused by combat is the number one cause of relapse into an abusive habit, which also includes smoking.

While substance abuse is commonplace among those who recently returned from combat, it can also occur years later, triggered by issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which sometimes takes years to develop. Other life events that somehow relate to traumatic military service may also trigger abuse and, eventually, dependency.

Addressing Substance Dependency

Often, the first avenue to addressing substance abuse and dependency among Navy (and other) veterans is to address the stress levels they feel upon returning from war. For most, drinking or doing drugs is a way to cope with stress or trauma, so relieving that stress may help diminish the abuse problem.

Stress and anxiety relief can be accomplished via psychotherapy or medication or a combination of both. Once the stress is diminished, the abuse may or may not solve itself. If more treatment is required to address the dependency, the veteran may need to enroll in some sort of substance abuse treatment program, either inpatient or outpatient, depending on the severity of the situation.

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has been working with the Department of Defense in attempts to improve treatment services for veterans with substance abuse problems. They continue to assess the efficacy of their behavioral health services for active duty members and veterans.

Navy veterans suffering from the affects of substance abuse and dependency caused by combat-related stress should contact the Veteran’s Administration for more information on treatment programs for which they may be eligible.

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