9 Common Substance Abuse Symptoms in Veterans

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Substance abuse is a prevalent issue among veterans, often as a means to cope with the physical and emotional challenges that come with transitioning from military to civilian life.

The symptoms of substance abuse can manifest in various ways, including changes in behavior, social isolation, and an increase in risky activities.

In this discussion, we will explore some common signs of substance abuse in veterans, such as spending a significant amount of time using and recovering from substances, engaging in dangerous behaviors, and experiencing social or interpersonal problems.

Keep on reading to learn more about these warning signs. 


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1. Increased Tolerance

This essentially means that over time, the individual needs to consume more of the substance to achieve the same feeling or effect they initially experienced with smaller amounts.

This escalation can be due to the body's adaptation to the substance, resulting in the need for higher doses to maintain the desired outcome.

For veterans, this increased tolerance can be particularly dangerous as it often leads to escalated use, increasing the risk of overdose and other health complications.

It's crucial to recognize this sign early and seek professional help to manage and overcome the issue. 


2. Withdrawal Symptoms


Symptoms can range from physical discomforts such as headaches, nausea, and shaking, to psychological distress including anxiety, depression, and intense cravings for the substance.

The severity and duration of these symptoms can vary widely depending on the substance in question, the duration of use, and the individual's overall health status.

For veterans, these symptoms can be compounded by pre-existing mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), making it even more difficult to stop using.

It's crucial that any attempts to quit or reduce substance use are done under the supervision of a healthcare professional who can provide appropriate support and treatment during this challenging period. 



3. Neglecting Responsibilities

Neglecting responsibilities can manifest in various ways, such as ignoring personal hygiene, failing to meet work obligations, or neglecting family and social commitments.

For instance, a once punctual and dedicated individual might start showing up late for work or missing shifts entirely.

Similarly, they might withdraw from social activities they once enjoyed or fail to fulfill their roles within their family.

Many veterans already face challenges transitioning back into civilian life, including finding employment and re-establishing social connections.

When substance abuse enters the equation, it can exacerbate these issues, making it even harder for them to reintegrate into society.


4. Loss of Interest

Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities is a common symptom of substance abuse, particularly in veterans.

As the substance becomes a priority, it often consumes the individual's time and energy, leaving little room for anything else.

This could mean that hobbies, social events, or even work that used to bring joy and fulfillment are now neglected.

A once passionate artist might stop painting, or an avid runner might lose the desire to exercise.

This shift can be subtle at first, but over time, the change becomes more noticeable and can lead to an overall decrease in life satisfaction and well-being.


5. Continued Use Despite Consequences

Continued use of a substance despite being aware of the negative physical or psychological consequences is a telling sign of substance abuse.

This behavior is particularly common among veterans, who might find temporary relief from stress, anxiety, or other mental health issues through substance use.

Despite knowing the harm it's causing to their health, relationships, or career, they may feel unable to stop due to the power of addiction.

Substance use becomes a cycle where the short-term relief it offers outweighs the long-term damage, creating a dangerous pattern that can be hard to break.

It's crucial to understand that this pattern is not a lack of willpower or moral failing, but rather a symptom of the powerful hold that addiction can have.


6. Failed Attempts to Quit

Repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit or reduce substance use is a significant indicator.

This symptom is particularly prevalent among veterans, who might try to regain control over their lives by ceasing substance use.

However, the powerful grip of addiction often makes this a challenging endeavor.

Withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and the emotional turmoil that accompanies quitting can make it difficult for individuals to maintain their resolve.

Each failed attempt can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness, further entrenching the cycle of addiction.



7. Time Spent on Substance Use

Substance abuse often leads to a significant amount of time being spent on obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of the substance.

The substance becomes the central focus of their lives, with other responsibilities and activities falling by the wayside.

As the addiction progresses, it can consume more and more of their time, leading to neglect of work, relationships, hobbies, and self-care.

What might have started as a coping mechanism or a way to relieve stress can quickly turn into a full-time preoccupation that disrupts all aspects of life.


8. Risky Behavior

Substance abuse often results in an increase in risky behaviors, such as driving under the influence or using substances in potentially dangerous situations.

The impaired judgment and diminished inhibitions that often accompany substance use can lead to decisions that put the individual or others at risk.

These behaviors not only increase the likelihood of physical harm but can also lead to legal troubles, further complications in relationships, and other negative consequences.

Despite these risks, the compulsion to use the substance can override any concerns about safety or repercussions.


9. Social or Interpersonal Problems

Relationships with family, friends, and colleagues can be strained due to erratic behavior, lack of reliability, or the individual withdrawing from social situations to use the substance.

Over time, these issues can lead to isolation, as the person struggling with addiction may push away those who are trying to help or may be excluded by others who are unable to cope with their behavior.

This isolation can further fuel the cycle of addiction, as it removes sources of support and accountability.

The loss of social connections can also exacerbate feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety, which are often underlying issues for those struggling with substance abuse.

Recognizing the impact that substance use is having on relationships and social connections is a critical step toward seeking help and recovery. 


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Conclusion

Veterans grappling with substance abuse often exhibit a range of symptoms that signify a need for intervention and support.

Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, using, and recovering from substances, engaging in risky behaviors, and experiencing social or interpersonal problems are common signs.

These symptoms not only disrupt their daily life but also hinder the transition back to civilian life.

Substance abuse is often a response to underlying issues, such as PTSD, depression, or anxiety.

Therefore, comprehensive care that addresses both the addiction and its root causes is essential for recovery.

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July 14th, 2024

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