Drug Detox Centers Offer Help for Veterans
Substance use disorder (SUD) runs rampant in our society and, unfortunately, our nation’s heroes are not immune to this problem. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than one in 10 veterans has been diagnosed with a substance use disorder. Illicit drug use is down significantly among active-duty personnel. It is once military personnel become inactive that the issue is more likely to take hold. Veterans can face a unique set of circumstances that differ from those of the general public and can often trigger substance use disorders. The good news is that help is available to veterans who want it.
Drug and Alcohol Use in Veterans
The most common form of substance use disorder among military personnel is alcohol abuse. This seems to be most prevalent among personnel who have had increased combat exposure. It has been shown that one in three met the criteria for hazardous drinking or potential substance use disorder, a figure that increases once service members are no longer on active duty.
In 2017, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that veterans were more likely than other individuals to be heavy users of alcohol. Compared to the general population, the percentage of veterans who enter a treatment program for substance use disorder is nearly double.
It has been reported that the rate of drug abuse increases once active personnel move to veteran status. A common occurrence is opioid use disorder. Often, this begins during active duty with pain medications prescribed due to an injury sustained during deployment.
Unfortunately, with opioids being so heavily addictive, clients have come to rely on the medications for long periods. This, coupled with the mental health struggles of many who see combat, can lead to addiction issues during and after personnel are active. Once reliant on opioids, veterans who have addiction issues may then turn to street drugs like heroin and fentanyl.
Heroin and Fentanyl
Heroin and fentanyl are of particular concern as they are both extremely potent. Fentanyl can be lethal in as little as a 2mg dose. A current major concern about substance use is that fentanyl is regularly mixed with other drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, so even if your drug of choice is not fentanyl, there is still a risk that you can overdose from it when you think you are taking something else. Fentanyl is 50-100 times stronger than morphine. Due to its extreme potency, it is mixed with other drugs, making them more addictive, cheaper, and deadly. Today, there are over 150 daily deaths due to overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
Signs of an Overdose
An overdose results from one or more drugs being exposed to your body in a dosage that is beyond your body’s limits. Symptoms of an overdose can differ depending on the kind of drug, body tolerance, and whether other substances are present in the system. The outcome can be permanent damage or death if the affected person is not immediately treated.
Drug Overdose Symptoms
These are some common signs of a drug overdose:
- Poor balance
- Slow breath or lack of breath
- Losing consciousness
- Pinpoint pupils
- Blue or cold skin
- Overly pale complexion
- Chest pain
- Migraine-like headache
- Gurgling or snoring, signaling difficulty to breathe
What to Do When There Is a Drug Overdose
If you suspect that you or someone else is having a drug overdose, the first thing that you need to do is to call 9-1-1. Time is of the essence, and waiting to call for emergency help can make the difference between life and death. Once the call is placed, the next step is to administer naloxone (Narcan).
If you or someone you know is engaging in substance use that could potentially lead to an overdose, it is important to keep naloxone available at all times. It comes in an easy-to-use nasal spray and is available free of charge at any VA pharmacy for qualifying veterans.
If you are ready to turn your life around and move on from reliance on substance use, it is likely that you will experience withdrawal. It is important to understand that withdrawal is normal during the process of cutting out or cutting back on addictive substances.
Withdrawal symptoms can differ from person to person and can also depend on factors like age and the type of substance. Symptoms may last for a few days to a few weeks. The level of the symptoms can be mild to severe and can include:
- Mood changes
- Inability to get comfortable
- Body aches
- Excessive sweating
- Runny nose
- Hot and cold flashes
How to Properly Treat Withdrawal
Some people opt to go through the withdrawal process alone, but this is not recommended, as it is not safe. To safely manage withdrawal symptoms requires detoxification by medical professionals. The treatment of withdrawal symptoms can require teamwork between a network of healthcare professionals such as psychiatrists, nurses, therapists, and pharmacists. You can get this help by going to a detox facility.
A detox center will work to make your recovery is a lasting one. Their team can provide medications to help with withdrawal as well as personalized treatment. Having the medical professionals at a detox facility look after includes monitoring to make sure there are no complications or side effects.
Why to Seek Help for Addiction
Addiction can affect every part of a person’s life. Not only that, but significant health issues result from addiction. They can include mental health issues, cancer, stroke, and lung or heart disease.
Another issue with addiction is the higher chance of contracting infections. Hepatitis C and HIV are possibilities that come with risky behaviors that often accompany addiction, such as intravenous drug use and unsafe sex.
Addiction also affects your relationships. If you are drinking or doing drugs too often, the effects are felt by everyone close to you. This includes your relatives, children, co-workers, and romantic partners.
What Kind of Help Is Available?
A variety of help is available to veterans suffering from substance use disorders. In treatment programs, you will receive help from specially trained individuals who are certified or licensed to help with what you are going through. Many of the counselors are people who are in recovery just like you. The makeup of your treatment team will depend on the type of treatment you are receiving, but a typical team includes social workers, doctors, nurses, psychologists, and psychiatrists.
Inpatient treatment is provided in hospitals or medical clinics. This type of treatment offers both detoxification and rehabilitation services. Inpatient treatment provides a heavily structured environment for beating substance abuse.
Residential programs are living situations that also provide treatment. Different residential treatment programs can last anywhere from a month to a year. These programs have different phases of treatment. For example, during the first phase of treatment, contact with family and friends may be limited in order to have the client fully assimilate into their treatment program. Later, the client will be able to return to school or work during the day and then return back to the facility in the evening. Residential programs are typically for clients who do not have immediate family or work needs and who have found limited success with other forms of treatment.
This type of treatment is also known as “partial hospitalization” treatment. These types of programs are sometimes provided in hospitals or clinics. With a day treatment program, clients attend treatment for a few hours a day and then return to their normal home environment. These types of programs are generally for clients who have a stable living situation and generally last for about three months.
An outpatient program is a treatment strategy where a client receives their treatment at a facility but then lives elsewhere. You can find outpatient treatment options at local health department offices, community mental health clinics, veterans’ clinics, and other locations. At many outpatient programs, clients meet in the evenings so that they can work or go to school during the day hours. Attendance requirements can vary from once a week to several times a week.
Opioid Treatment Programs
Opioid treatment programs are also often known as methadone clinics. These programs offer medication-assisted treatment for clients who are dependent on opioid drugs. These are outpatient programs that typically include counseling, drug testing, and other services. The program provides clients with medications such as methadone in order to limit the need for illicit substances.
The Importance of Hope in Recovery
Recovery from addiction is not easy, but it is important to have hope. Hope is necessary for recovery because recovery requires you to be motivated in facing the challenges of your addiction. If you come to recovery with a strong sense of hope, you come better prepared to handle those challenges on the way to attaining your goals.
Studies have shown that clients with a strong sense of hope are more likely to live a better quality of life and maintain their sobriety longer. Breaking the cycle of substance abuse will likely be difficult, but as long as you have hope, you have a greater chance of success to look forward to.