28 Jun How to Help a Veteran Get Into Drug Rehab Treatment
Active duty service in the military often comes at a very high price. Soldiers who live in a world punctuated by roadside bombs, improvised explosive devices and lurking snipers may come home with wounds that won’t show up on x-rays. It’s not uncommon for veterans to attempt to cope with painful emotions and traumatic memories by turning to alcohol or drugs. Some are able to curb their use. Others, however, develop a serious substance abuse problem.
Addressing the issue without a conflicted exchange can be difficult – if not impossible. Looking the other way is a form of enabling. So what can you do to get a veteran you love into alcohol or drug rehab treatment when they’re resistant to it?
Substance Abuse and Veterans
Alcohol is the most likely abused substance among our nation’s vets. For instance, screenings of veterans done 3-4 months after return from deployment in Iraq found that nearly 27% met the clinical criteria for alcohol abuse and had a higher risk of related behaviors, like drunken driving. Overall, alcohol abuse among veterans who have been stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan may run as high as 39%.
Drug abuse and dependence is also a problem. One study estimates that approximately 3% of veterans struggle with drug use. Some military vets turn to illicit drugs, like heroin or cocaine, while others turn to opium-based prescription pain relievers, such as hydrocodone or morphine.
Substance abuse is especially rampant among homeless veterans. It’s estimated that 70% of these vets struggle with drug or alcohol problems. In addition, approximately half of homeless veterans have a mental health disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression, that often contributes to the development of an addiction.
The Necessity of Treatment
Alcoholism wreaks significant physical and emotional damage. It increases the risk for cancer and other chronic health conditions, and also often leads to dangerous behaviors such as drinking and driving. Drug abuse always carries the risk of a dangerous or deadly overdose. No matter what substance is abused, an addiction quite often destroys family relationships and sabotages careers. It may also cause serious legal or financial problems.
However, military members may have special considerations that make alcohol or drug rehab treatment especially important. Veterans suffer higher rates of depression and anxiety disorders than the general population, and substance abuse exacerbates psychiatric problems. As the symptoms become worse, your loved one might drink or abuse drugs even more in a desperate attempt to self-medicate.
While it may be tempting, you can’t afford to wait to see if your loved one can “get it together” on his or her own. Substance abuse and addiction are serious problems that can’t be ignored. They require treatment by trained professionals – preferably those who have experience working with veterans.
Prepare for Resistance
Convincing a loved one to seek treatment for substance abuse can be a challenge. Be prepared to face any number of barriers in the process. For example, he or she may have the stubborn mindset that asking for help is a sign of weakness. This is particularly common with someone who is an active or former military member. There may also be a very strong fear that a commanding officer or others will find out about treatment. Your loved one may fear the harsh judgment of others – and that can be powerful enough to hinder him or her from reaching out for help, even if the need for treatment is understood.
Consult a Professional
The first step in getting your loved one into treatment is to consult an alcohol or drug rehab treatment facility that either specializes in (or at least has a lot of experience with) treating veterans. The center may have staff members who have the expertise to work with veterans, or it may provide a dedicated service member treatment program. An addiction specialist will tell you what treatment options are available. He or she will also share tips and strategies to help you get your loved one to agree to enter treatment.
Consider an Intervention
In some cases, a professional intervention may be necessary. During this organized meeting, you, your family, close friends, and an intervention specialist will gather together and confront your loved one, addressing the substance abuse issue and the need for treatment.
The value of having a professional interventionist cannot be understated. He or she will provide a neutral and calming presence in what can be a stressful and sometimes heated meeting. The interventionist should also be able to expertly address any of the person’s concerns. For instance, your loved one may believe that no professional is qualified to treat someone who’s experienced the horrors of combat. He or she may also be worried that treatment is too expensive. The interventionist will help your loved one overcome those perceived barriers, so the focus can be on getting the addiction treatment that’s needed.
Your loved one may also be dealing with other mental health disorders. Research suggests that alcohol and drug abuse are much more likely to occur in veterans who are battling depression or PTSD. Convincing a loved one who may not be able to make reasonable decisions to enter alcohol or drug rehab treatment can be difficult. The interventionist will have strategies to help a depressed or traumatized vet enter rehab.
It’s heartbreaking to watch someone you love struggle with an addiction. It can also be very painful, especially if the veteran has said or done hurtful things toward you and others you love. You need to acknowledge your own emotions, but it’s also necessary to be supportive of your loved one. He or she has a hard journey ahead, and there will be setbacks.
Being supportive shouldn’t be confused with enabling. It doesn’t mean you need to provide money that will be spent on alcohol or drive him or her to a physician for prescription shopping. Instead, it means you avoid resorting to criticism and blame. You may also need to make changes in your own behavior to help heal the relationship and cope with negative feelings such as anger or resentment.
Acting in a supportive way is important, but it should not come at the expense of your own safety or that of others. If your loved one is verbally, physically, or sexually abusive, do what is necessary to keep yourself, your children, and other family members safe. Contact your local domestic violence shelter for advice and access to helpful resources.
If you love a veteran who needs alcohol or drug rehab treatment, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Addiction professionals can help you get your loved one into a program so that the healing process can begin.
Find relief in recovery. Life gets better with addiction treatment.
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