Many service members have gone through some very hard and traumatic experiences while in service. This can leave not only physical scars but also psychological scars. Substance abuse may be an attempt to self-medicate these scars.
It is very common for veterans dealing with mental health illness to experience other health issues and symptoms that compound the mental illness, such as physical pain, relationship problems with family and/or friends, and problems functioning in everyday situations like keeping a job or staying in school. For veterans who are suffering from mental health illness, turning to drugs and/or alcohol oftentimes becomes a coping mechanism.
The Link Between Mental Health and Substance Abuse
The National Institute of Drug Abuse states that untreated mental illness can lead to substance abuse. An example of this would be a veteran who has significant anxiety as a result of post traumatic stress disorder; however, that veteran is not treating for PTSD through a medical provider, and instead chooses to use alcohol or marijuana to self-medicate the PTSD symptoms from the anxiety. In this example, the untreated mental illness has now led to substance abuse.
Worsening of Mental Health Symptoms due to Substance Abuse
Medical research indicates that the use of drugs/or alcohol can make health issues and symptoms worse. The following are some examples:
- Mental health conditions may create sleep problems like trouble falling asleep or waking up during the night. Substance abuse in this situation can alter the quality of sleep and disturb daily functioning.
- Symptoms that include feeling numb, angry and irritable, or depressed can be increased with substance abuse.
- Substance abuse can make it hard to concentrate and be productive, which further exacerbates mental illness.
Treatment for Veterans Dealing with Substance Abuse
Substance abuse is not something that will just go away. It is important to know that there are many resources for veterans dealing with this issue. One of which is the Veterans Alcohol and Drug Dependence Rehabilitation Program. This program is operated by the VA and offers a variety if therapies and support services to eligible veterans who have a substance abuse disorder. Treatment services are provided through the numerous VA medical centers and clinics around the country.
In order to qualify for veteran substance abuse treatment through the VA, the veteran must be enrolled in the VA health care system. To learn more about this program please click this link.