The Relationship Between Veterans and Benzodiazepines
While going through life threatening situations may seem like the hardest part of enlisting in the US Military, more 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 Veteran’s 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.
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
Despite the VA advising against the prescription of Benzodiazepines for PTSD, 30% of diagnosed veterans receive Benzos from a military doctor.
While numbers vary based off era, at its height, 30% of veterans of the Vietnam War dealt with PTSD Symptoms.
Only 40% of veterans who screen positive for emotional disorders and SUDs will seek help for their mental health.
Post-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:
- Memory problems
- Low sense of self-worth
- Trouble sleeping
- Relationship problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Self-destructive behavior
- 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 option 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,” as they are dependent on them.
PTSD cannot be “sedated away.” Medication can be used to address the symptoms of it, but to move past PTSD, therapy is necessary. Some therapies which have been successfully used to treate PTSD include cognitive processing therapy (CPT) eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and prolonged exposure therapy. Not all therapies work for all people, so a trained therapist must to an assessment to determine the best course of treatment.
Often, a combination of medication and therapy is the best solution, but there are medications that can be taken on a long-term basis that are not as addictive as Benzos, such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and Effexor.
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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, especially with Benzos. 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 people who are dependent on Benzos, not just veterans, is admitting 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 what we think of as“junkies,” but they have been addicted. 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.
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 are 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.
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