The Relationship Between Veterans and Benzodiazepines

While going through life threatening situations may seem like the hardest part of enlisting in the US Military, most often, it is readjusting to the civilian life they gave up that proves the most difficult. As a result, addiction issues involving veterans and Benzodiazepines, or Benzos, is a growing problem.

The Veterans’ Return Home

It is hard for someone from the outside to see the real impact war can have on an individual. This readjustment back to civilian life can be a hard time for Veterans.

In a way, you are doing things that you have done many times before, but it has been so long that it feels completely foreign to you.

Jonathan Kirk Davis
Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sergeant in the United States Marine Corp

There isn’t much security for many veterans returning home. Many have to deal with unemployment and little financial support. When they really need someone, they often find it hard to turn to loved ones, as those who have not experienced combat just do not have the same understanding and feelings. For veterans dealing with anxiety disorders, this can worsen their symptoms and make them feel more alone. This is the start of the problem with veterans and Benzodiazepines.

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Why Veterans Use Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are most frequently prescribed due to their effects as sedatives. Usually, doctors prescribe Benzos when a person is suffering from symptoms related to seizures, insomnia, and/or anxiety. Benzos have largely replaced Barbiturates as the drug of choice for Veterans suffering from these symptoms after returning home.

However, Benzos are highly addictive, making long term use risky. Typically, a Benzo prescription should last no more than 10 days, otherwise a patient runs the risk of growing dependent on the medication. Veterans using Benzos may think their symptoms are being treated, but many who are coming home for the first time in years are often put into a delicate mental state. This increases the chances of abusing, and subsequently becoming addicted to, Benzodiazepines.

Treatment of Veterans’ PTSD with Benzodiazepines

30
percent

Despite the VA advising against the prescription of Benzodiazepines for PTSD, 30% of diagnosed veterans receive Benzos from a military doctor.

30
percent

While numbers vary based off era, at its height, 30% of veterans of the Vietnam War dealt with PTSD Symptoms.

40
percent

Only 40% of veterans who screen positive for emotional disorders and SUDs will seek help for their mental health.

As A Result Of Attempts To Treat PTSD And Other Mental Health Conditions, Doctors Have Accidentally Contributed To Addiction Issues Involving Veterans And BenzodiazepinesPost-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is one of the most common mental health conditions among veterans. Previously known as “shellshock” and “battle fatigue,” PTSD has become a better recognized issue over the past decade. Still, many active duty military won’t come forward out of fear of personal embarrassment, disappointing comrades, and chances of discharge. The Army, in particular, has a history of Dishonorably Discharging soldiers who show signs of PTSD over minor infractions, then refusing appeals of upgrading their discharge after a positive diagnosis has been made. Unfortunately, this means that many veterans leave the service with undiagnosed and untreated PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Memory problems
  • Low sense of self-worth
  • Hopelessness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Relationship problems
  • Aggression
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Self-destructive behavior (self-harm or substance abuse)

Despite advisories from Veteran Affairs and the Department of Defense, military doctors are still prescribing Benzodiazepines to 30% of veterans diagnosed with PTSD. While this was once thought to be an appropriate treatment, recent studies show that they are just sedating the issues and pushing the root problems down. It is especially concerning that Benzos can only be safely prescribed in the short term, and even then, addiction and dependency may still form. Using them as a long-term treatment can be incredibly dangerous, especially as tolerance builds, and the dose must be increased. Eventually, using Benzos will become a regular part of a user’s day, something they must take to function “normally.”

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Co-Occurring PTSD and Benzodiazepine Abuse in Veterans

As with many mental health disorders, those suffering from PTSD are more likely to pick up an addiction while trying to self-medicate. This affects 20% of Veterans who are diagnosed with PTSD. Men and women who are simply trying to do what they think is best but are unable to think clearly through the stress of the disorder and the pressure that has been put on them.

The hardest part for many, not just veterans, is when to admit that their self-medication has turned into an addiction. This isn’t the user’s fault. They were simply trying to take care of this issue themselves, without involving their friends, family, or even the government. These are strong men and women who aren’t used to relying on another. They aren’t “junkies,” or “addicts.” They weren’t looking to get high, they were just looking for help. However, they are suffering from a substance abuse disorder that is negatively impacting their lives, and need treatment.

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Treatment for Veterans and Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepine addiction is a serious problem, but there is help available. Veteran’s Affairs has a list of clinics across the country that can treat addiction and PTSD, and there many private recovery centers who specialize in treating veterans.

If you are, or someone you love is, a veteran who is suffering from addiction, don’t let anything stop you from getting the help you deserve. Contact a dedicated treatment specialist today who can help you figure out your first step towards sobriety.

Last Edited: April 20, 2018

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