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Opioid Addiction in Veterans: Common Signs and How to Get Help

Veterans Day 2021 is this week, and to be frank, no measure of topes, lip-service, or performative gratitude will ever be enough to convey our appreciation for our retired military. While the nation will rightly recognize the selflessness, sacrifice, and immeasurable impact that our veterans have had in preserving our freedom and quality of life, many will do so unaware of the ongoing battle with opioid addiction many vets face long after their service has concluded. If you or your loved one is a veteran struggling with opioid addiction, learn how to get help and reclaim your life.

Prevalence of Opioid Addiction among Veterans

Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that ten percent of military veterans struggle with some level of substance use disorder (SUD). As with other populations facing this disease, opioids are among the most abused substances among veterans. Additional reporting from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that over 10 percent of admissions to substance use treatment centers among veterans were for heroin, which shares nearly identical properties of prescription opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone. Veterans fall victim to opioid addiction or, at the very least, abuse for a variety of different clinical and lifestyle reasons.

What’s Driving Opioid Addiction among Veterans?

To start with, there’s chronic pain. The rigors of combat and even non-combat-related military duty take their toll on the body like few, if any, other lifestyles. More than two-thirds of veterans report experiencing pain during and after their service. Over nine percent report that they experience severe pain, compared to only 6.4 percent of non-veterans, putting them at higher risk for accidental opioid pain reliever overdoses.

At the peak of the opioid epidemic (2001-2009), the number of veterans in the VHA system receiving an opioid prescription increased from 17 percent to 24 percent. This spike corresponds to a dramatic increase in overall opioid overdose rates among veterans increased from 14 to 21 percent from 2010-2016. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and trauma also play a key role in this crisis.

Signs of Opioid Addiction in Veterans

It can be hard for veterans to admit to themselves or others that they’ve fallen into opioid dependency. Pride, feelings of shame, and denial very often get in the way of self-awareness. That being said, some of the more common signs of veteran opioid addiction actually mirror those of civilians and include:

  • Doctor Shopping
  • Denial and Anger when Confronted about Abuse
  • Lying about Their Frequency of Use and Dosage
  • Severe Cravings and Withdrawal Symptoms
  • Watching the Clock and Counting the Minutes until their Next Dose
  • Bizarre and Alarming Behavioral Changes
  • Trouble Sleeping

In a cruel sort of irony, opioid withdrawal can actually lead to a condition called hyperalgesia, an increased sensitivity to feeling pain, and an extreme response to pain. This means that patients who start taking opioids for pain often experience equal or worse pain than when they started the pain medication.

Addressing and Treating Opioid Addiction among Veterans

If you or your loved one are a veteran struggling with opioid addiction, there are multiple resources that can help you start your treatment and recovery journey. There are also resources for those who are unsure about safe opioid use for pain management purposes. The Opioid Safety Initiative is a multi-pronged approach to opioid safety and intervention. It offers insights on a range of issues, including safe and responsible use and moving beyond opioids to treat chronic pain.

Once you realize you or your loved one are addicted, however, the best course of action is to seek help from a quality and reputable opioid addiction treatment center. Professional treatment will offer medically supervised detox to keep you safe and comfortable during withdrawal, followed by comprehensive behavioral rehab to help you address the psychological aspects of your substance use.

Recovery Unplugged offers quality inpatient and outpatient opioid addiction treatment for veterans at our locations across the country. We are in-network with most major insurance providers and are staffed with experienced and intuitive mental health professionals who understand the unique mental health needs of veterans. You protected our country for years; now let Recovery Unplugged protect you from worsening opioid addiction. Contact our team now.

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