What does is mean to have a drug problem?
Some Veterans turn to drugs as a way to deal with problems in their daily lives and use illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs for recreation, to relax, or to help them cope. Maybe you feel drugs help reduce the stress in your life or help you forget a problem or painful memories from your time in the military. Maybe you started using medications for pain, began taking more than your doctor prescribed, and then found yourself looking for more and more of the medication.
Retirement, the death of a spouse or good friend, leaving your home, losing your job, and being diagnosed with a disease all can trigger emotions that might lead to problems with drug use. However, in the long term, taking drugs or misusing medications causes more problems than it solves.
What are the signs of drug problems?
Most drug problems start with casual use. People who develop problems with drugs often begin as recreational users, but then need increasingly higher and more frequent doses to feel the effects. After a while, they may take drugs just to function, and before long, they can’t get through the day without the drug.
”I always thought you could only get addicted to illegal drugs. I never would’ve guessed how quickly taking sleeping pills could get way out of hand.”
Signs of drug addiction include:
Increased use of the drug—any amount greater than prescribed
Using the drug regularly—this can be daily or even several times a day
Not being able to stop taking the drug
Spending your money on the drug, even if you can’t afford it
Feeling like you need the drug to deal with everyday problems
Focusing large amounts of your time and energy on getting and using the drug
“It was like I had blinders on and I completely lost sight of the important things and people in my life. All because of this one little pill.”
Drug addiction can occur with any kind of drug—not just illegal drugs. An addiction to drugs can happen if you overuse painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin, inhalants like glues, gas, and paint thinners, or over-the-counter medicines like cough syrup and cold pills. No matter what type of drug you may be taking, a drug problem influences your behavior. Symptoms of a drug problem can include:
What is the treatment for drug problems?
If you are having problems with drugs, it doesn’t mean that you are weak or unable to change. Drug addiction is complicated, and it takes more than willpower or good intentions to quit. Using drugs over time changes the brain, which leads to a need or craving for the drug.
There are many effective services for Veterans dealing with drug problems. One of the most proven forms of treatment is counseling or therapy, either alone with a therapist or in a group, and, for some drugs like opiates, with anti-addiction medications. You and your doctor will work together to determine what treatment will work best.
Your doctor may decide you need detoxification (detox) before you start treatment. Drug detox uses medicine to help you safely stop taking drugs and manage the symptoms of withdrawal.
“The military instilled in me an immense amount of pride and self-discipline. It was hard to come to terms with my drug addiction at first, but choosing to get the help I needed turned out to be one of the best decisions in my entire life.”
In order to make a full recovery, counseling can help you improve and repair other problematic areas of your life at home, at work, with friends, or in other everyday situations.
Sometimes recovery from drug problems includes care for other issues that may also be related to using drugs, such as posttraumatic stress, depression, chronic pain, trouble sleeping, irritability, and relationship problems. A doctor or therapist can help you identify and treat these issues, which can help the process of recovery.
VA offers different options for treating drug problems that can accommodate your unique circumstances. There are programs for rural residents, women’s services, and evening and weekend clinics.
Take the next step – Make the connection.
You may be wondering if you have symptoms of drug addiction. One way to find out is to take a confidential and anonymous screening. This short list of questions won’t be able to tell you for sure whether or not you need treatment for drug addiction, but it may indicate whether it’s a good idea to see a professional for further assessment.
Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with proven resources and treatments for treating problems with drug use and find solutions that improve their lives. It can be difficult to handle it on your own, so talking to your family and friends can be a first step. They may be able to help you find the treatment that is right for you. You can also consider connecting with:
Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does
Local self help groups, such as a Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
A mental health professional, such as a therapist
Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans
A spiritual or religious advisor
Explore these resources for more information on drug problems in Veterans.
Learn more about the possible associations between drug abuse and other issues such as chronic pain, trouble sleeping, relationship problems, posttraumatic stress, and depression.
VA’s Substance Abuse page
Read more about VA’s programs and services for Veterans dealing with drug abuse.
Take an online workshop with interactive exercises to evaluate your own substance use and hear from other Veterans and service members dealing with drug abuse.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
This link will allow you to search for VA programs located near you. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s programs for treating drug problems.
If you are a combat Veteran or experienced any sexual trauma during your military service, bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist—many of whom are Veterans themselves—for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA.
This link will allow you to search for a Narcotics Anonymous meeting located near you.