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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, for relaxation, or for help coping with daily life. You may have started using drugs for fun or to be social, but can't seem to stop. 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, but then you found yourself taking more than your doctor prescribed and looking for more and more of the medication.

Transitioning from military service, 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 or with taking medication for a medical problem. 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.

Signs of drug addiction include:

  • Increased use of the drug (any amount greater than prescribed)
  • Using the drug regularly, either 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
“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.”

Drug addiction can occur with any kind of drug, not just illegal drugs. An addiction to drugs can happen if you overuse prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin, inhale household chemicals like glues or sprays, or abuse 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 will power 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. Some counseling sessions may also include your family. To make a full recovery, counseling can involve helping you improve and repair other problematic areas of your life at home, at work, with friends, or in everyday situations.

In addition, for some drugs like opiates, treatment may involve anti-addiction medications. Your doctor may decide you need detoxification (detox) before you start other treatment. Drug detox uses medicine to help you safely stop taking drugs and manage the symptoms of withdrawal. You and your doctor will work together to determine what treatment will work best.

“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.”

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 Veterans living in rural areas, 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 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 this issue 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 doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to treat drug abuse even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • Local support groups, such as 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 and has programs for overcoming drug problems.
  • A spiritual or religious adviser

Explore these resources for more information on Veterans experiencing problems with drugs.

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 Use Page
Read more about VA’s programs and services for Veterans dealing with substance misuse.
www.mentalhealth.va.gov/res-vatreatmentprograms.asp

AfterDeployment
Take an online workshop with interactive exercises to evaluate your own substance use and hear from other Veterans and service members dealing with alcohol abuse or drug problems.
www.afterdeployment.dcoe.mil/topics-alcohol-drugs

Narcotics Anonymous
This link will allow you to search for a Narcotics Anonymous meeting located near you.
www.na.org/meetingsearch/

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can 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. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter_flsh.asp

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp?isflash=1