10 Steps for Helping Veterans with Drug Abuse
In 2010, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report titled “VA Faces Challenges in Providing Substance Abuse Use Disorder Services and Is Taking Steps to Improve These Services for Veterans.” This report included the alarming news that of the 5 million veterans receiving treatment through the Veterans Administration in 2009, 420,000 of them had been diagnosed with some type of substance abuse disorder. In some cases, veterans become alcoholics or drug addicts because they find life after service to be difficult, struggling to find a job in today’s economy and feeling let down by the country they sacrificed so much for. In other cases, veterans are found to be self-medicating conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as they suffer from the anxiety, depression and stress caused by extended time in combat and serving overseas. Whatever the cause, there is help available. The Veterans Administration offers in-hospital care options such as detox, residential rehab programs, intensive outpatient programs and less-intensive outpatient programs, depending on the needs of the patient. As the title of the GAO report implies, however, the VA is struggling to keep up with the demand for treatment. This problem is not unique to the VA: Over all, only about one in ten addicts nationwide gets rehab treatment. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to help a friend or family member who is a veteran and is struggling with addiction, or things you can do to help yourself if you are in this situation:
- Recognize That There Is a Problem You, and the addicted person, have to first acknowledge that there actually is a problem before anything can be done about it. You cannot continue to make excuses or act like the situation isn’t as bad as it actually is.
- Get the Willingness to Quit Even if you have decided it is time to take action, you won’t get anywhere unless and until you have secured the agreement of the addict. In fact, your efforts to force the other person to quit may have the opposite effect, entrenching him or her in a bad habit as a way to avoid being proven wrong.
- Get a Reason to Quit You’ve decided to quit? Great. What you’ll need to carry you through the obstacles ahead of you is a reason to keep on, a goal to pursue and to motivate you when things get rough. Maybe it’s being able to reunite with family? Maybe it’s getting in better shape? Whatever it is, it has to be something that you want badly enough to persevere towards the goal of sobriety.
- Start with Small Steps It’s tempting to set the goal of quitting cold turkey, but this isn’t always the best approach. In some cases, you will be better off working to taper off the habit. For instance, you could help your loved one start drinking only every other day, and working from there down to only the weekends. It might be necessary to take more drastic measures, but unless the person is able to go to rehab and receive comprehensive support it may be necessary to try this approach.
- Take It One Day at a Time Quitting drugs or alcohol is a major challenge for most people, and even those who make it usually experience rough spots. Even if you or your loved one has a relapse one day, realize that this is an effort for the long run.
- Recognize Setbacks but Don’t Give Up You might lose one of the battles, but you can still win the war against addiction by staying committed. Nobody is perfect, and quitting is hard. You or your loved one might fall of the wagon on the second day, a month into quitting or a year later. This doesn’t mean that you’ve lost. I just means that you have to get right back on the wagon.
- Acknowledge Successes It’s easy to focus on how difficult quitting is and to get upset about the setbacks, but it’s also important to pay attention to the successes. Make a big deal out of the fact that the person has lasted a week without taking a drink. Celebrate the fact that the person was able to turn down drugs at a party. Reward the person with special treatment and show your respect and appreciation for their efforts.
- Enlist Support Most people can’t quit on their own. If you’re trying to get sober, get help from a friend or family member you trust. If you’re working to help an addict to recover, consider getting the help of another person, perhaps even two or three of them. Make it a team effort so that someone can always be there to lend support. Make sure, however, that the person you’re trying to help is comfortable with and trusts everyone you’re involving.
- Don’t Label the Person as an Addict It’s important to keep in mind that the person whom you’re helping to get sober is not an addict. He or she may be addicted, but this person is just a person. It’s easy to use labels like “addict,” and a person who has recovered his or her sobriety often lives in to the future as a “recovering addict,” rather than being able to finally put the past behind him or her.
- Get Rehab if Necessary In some cases, it simply isn’t possible to quit using drugs or alcohol without checking into rehab. Don’t let feelings of pride or stubbornness keep you from taking the necessary steps to get treatment. Rehab may take some time to complete, and it might not be cheap, but when compared with what is at stake — the happiness, health and life of the addict — it is entirely worth it.
The Narconon Freedom Center in Michigan is also reaching out to offer help to our nation’s veterans. They made the decision to do so in light of a CBS News report which highlighted the astonishingly high rates of prescription drug overdose among returning veterans. Too many of the veterans who are turning to the VA hospitals for help are simply being given pain medications such as Vicodin and OxyContin, powerful opiate drugs which can easily cause an addiction and which often lead to fatal overdose. To help with addressing this important problem, the Freedom Center has been offering a 50% discount to veterans who come to the Michigan Narconon center during the holidays. This discount can make the difference between being able to afford the program and not, and it represents a significant gesture of gratitude to America’s veterans.