Faces of Addiction Part Three: The Veteran
Opiate abuse is an incredibly difficult thing to face. Whether you’re struggling with your own dependence on opioids, or you know a loved one who is, the journey is never easy. All too often, it’s made more difficult by the public perception of what a “drug addict” is – but here at OTCOA, we know that addiction has many faces.
If you or a friend or family member is struggling with opiate abuse, we know that your struggle is not due to flaws in character or a lack of willpower. Opiate addiction affects real people and real families every day. This series of stories will attempt to illustrate why so many regular people fall victim to opiate use and abuse, and how they can find help.
It goes without saying that veterans face a myriad of challenges that the average citizen does not. Often faced with chronic pain that can’t go untreated, many veterans receive opiate prescriptions, leading a large percent of those to opiate addiction. A staggering statistic highlighting the problem facing veterans today – veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to die of an opiate overdose.
On top of their risk of injury and chronic pain, veterans often experience PTSD and other psychological symptoms of combat that impact their health and state of being. More than three quarters of veterans experience PTSD, according to the Wounded Warrior Project. It’s also worth noting that female veterans experience PTSD at a rate of 20% and many deal with the added emotional trauma of military sexual assault. Opioid abuse can begin as a solution to handle these psychological traumas as well as the physical pain that veterans encounter.
Let’s say that a young soldier comes home after several tours in the Middle East. He completed his duties with an excellent rating, but sustained a chronic shoulder injury after taking fire in Iraq. He also comes home with uncontrollable flashbacks and memories of his time in Iraq. His therapist at the VA diagnoses him with PTSD. His physician prescribes him Percocet and Vicodin to control his shoulder pain.
His transition home is a surprisingly difficult one. He missed his wife while he was serving, but he finds himself increasingly frustrated with her – he’s in pain, and prone to sudden outbursts that he can’t control. He’s been away from civilian life for a long time, and he finds that once-normal events and irregularities in his day result in extreme anger. His therapist prescribes anti-depressants to help control his outbursts. In combination with his painkillers, they help him feel numb enough to escape for a while.
Once his requisite sessions are over, he stops attending therapy. He’s a military man, and in his mind, discussing your personal problems is selfish and weak. He’s been taught to focus on the good of the group, not on his feelings or pain. His wife annoys him with her sympathy and her desire to talk about what happened – he wants to deal with his injury and his thoughts on his own.
He feels like he can’t compare his experiences to the other soldiers who are still out there, and worse, the men and women who didn’t come home at all. Who is he to be scarred? In his mind, this injury pales in comparison to what many of his fellow service members have been through. He feels guilty that his injury prevents him from continuing to serve.
He continues to take increasing doses of Percocet and Vicodin, buying pills online. He’s ashamed, but he can’t make it through the day without the painkillers. Even with the painkillers, he’s finding civilian life harder and harder. He contemplates suicide and then feels even guiltier for having such “weak” thoughts. He takes more pills to mask his depression.
The story above is never easy to read and sadly, it is a story echoed across America. If this sounds like you or a family member, you are not alone and you are not weak for needing help. OTCOA is here to help in finding an effective, individualized solution to opiate use and abuse. Learn about our scientific, proven method of treatment.