We live in an age of uncertainty caused by a myriad of factors. The Coronavirus pandemic, global catastrophes such as natural disasters and wars, and economic pressures have created a very stressful environment for people. This has led to many people developing various addictions as coping mechanisms. However, specific groups are more susceptible to addiction than others, and one of those groups is military veterans. Military veterans have always been more vulnerable to addiction historically than other groups of people. Due to their experience of trauma and violence, they are particularly susceptible to becoming addicted to life-threatening opioids and becoming dependent on the relatively harmless use of marijuana. This article discusses the six typical causes of substance addiction among military veterans.
1. Traumatic Experiences
Military personnel, as a consequence of the nature of their profession, are exposed to extreme circumstances, such as military operations and incidences of war. Military officials often lose their compatriots and engage in violent actions to protect their country’s interests. Veterans exposed to these situations often get severely addicted and get admitted to in-center rehab for patients for long-term care and physical rehabilitation. This is because veterans with these experiences find it very difficult to sleep and get night terrors and nightmares, preventing them from getting good sleep, which brings along complications of its own.
2. Military Lifestyle
Generally, officers are recruited into the army at a young age. They are immediately required to adapt to a rigid structure and a regimental lifestyle. Abiding by the army’s rules is compulsory to avoid punishment and remain in the military. This creates a relentless pressure for compliance and tolerance, resulting in a lot of stress that becomes one of the factors leading to addiction once they retire from the army as veterans. During their tenure with the military, addiction and dependence on nicotine through cigarettes are common, and marijuana is becoming increasingly popular. Both these substances help military personnel cope with the demands of military life. These habits sow the early seed for addiction amongst veterans and become a reference point to manage stress when they leave the army. However, the boundary between using substances for stress management and becoming addicted is fragile. Veterans with a history of use develop high tolerance and become vulnerable to overdose over time.
3. Family History
Research studies on addiction have identified addiction as a genetic disorder. This means that veterans’ susceptibility to addiction is heavily linked with their family history. Suppose there is a genetic relative, specifically, parents who were either addicted to substances or used substances from time to time as a coping mechanism. In that case, the descendants are more likely to resort to addiction as a coping mechanism for stress. The genetic marker posits that individuals with the “addiction” gene need substance use to create a sense of balance in their brain chemistry.
4. Environment and Upbringing
The second cause linked with familial reasons is the social environment the veteran grew up in. Individuals born into “dysfunctional” families often get neglected in receiving care. This entails childhood exposure to domestic violence, the experience of physical or sexual abuse, and the family’s poor financial state. These environments are very unsettling for children and bow the seed for addictive behavior in the future. A significant reason for that is parental figures’ common and acceptable use of substances in these families. Veterans who experience this in their childhood grow up accepting addiction as normal behavior.
Furthermore, the environment also extends to the larger social environment one is a part of. Even if the child was directly exposed to addiction by their parents, exposure through the extended social environment increases chances. This is particularly common in geographic localities with high demand and supply of illicit drugs and communal acceptance of using these for coping with stress.
5. Untreated Mental Health Conditions
The awareness of mental health conditions and reducing stigma around mental illnesses is relatively recent. Most people don’t understand neurological conditions that require proper care. For example, veterans often experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after leaving the army. Most veterans don’t know PTSD as a disorder and spend the rest of their lives unaware and undiagnosed of their own experiences of trauma manifesting as PTSD. PTSD is a debilitating condition that harrows the veteran’s ability to function socially and settle back into their everyday world. This adjustment is quite challenging and makes veterans use substances to sleep and function. Recent research into PTSD has shown neurologically similar to severe depression, restricting sufferers from normal functioning. Besides PTSD, other mental and psychological conditions trigger addictive Behaviours and a method to treat their mental illness.
6. Vets as a Susceptible Population
Due to their work and experiences, veterans are classified as one of the most susceptible populations to addiction. This is due to the lack of affordable sources to seek help. Furthermore, despite the patriotic nature of their duty, veterans often feel like misfits in society and struggle to attain jobs and maintain social relationships. Hence, many veterans sit together in support groups to share coping mechanisms. This leads to a sense of communal acceptability of addictive substances amongst veterans. In several states of the US where the use of marijuana is legal, veterans are often prescribed medicinal marijuana for their PTSD. Studies have shown that marijuana is beneficial as a coping mechanism for veterans; it helps them sleep without nightmares or night terrors.
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During the current uncertainty and unprecedented global events, army veterans resort to addictive substances to cope with daily life. In this article, we identified six significant determinants of addiction. First, the regimental nature of the military lifestyle and exposure to violence and death are substantial causes of veterans’ addiction. Moreover, veterans ‘ family history and childhood environment serve as the leading causes of substance abuse. Similarly, addiction amongst veterans is also linked with mental conditions such as PTSD. Finally, the continual property of veterans being susceptible to addiction often translates into veterans getting addicted due to the lack of care and difficulty accessing care for their mental health.