Medically Reviewed

Opioid Addiction in Veterans: Signs, Risks & Treatment

2 min read · 3 sections

The national opioid crisis affects every demographic, but none so heavily as Veterans. According to Robert Wilkie, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, veterans are twice as likely to die from an opioid overdose than civilian Americans. 1

Common Signs of Opioid Addiction in Veterans

Veterans are more susceptible to opioid addiction as they are more likely to suffer from chronic pain. In addition, many veterans suffer from mental health problems like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), making them more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate.

A study from the Journal of Addictive Diseases suggested that veterans underestimated their risk for opioid overdose, exposing a dire need for overdose prevention among service members. 2

If you or someone you know is a veteran struggling with substance abuse, it’s crucial that you understand the risk factors for opioid addiction and warning signs to watch out for.

What are The Common Risk Factors of Opioid Addiction in Veterans?

While all veterans may be at an increased risk for addiction, there are specific experiences that will increase their likelihood of substance abuse. 2

  • Multiple Deployments: Adjusting from deployment to civilian life can cause significant stress on veterans. As a result, those who experience multiple deployments are more at risk for substance abuse.
  • Combat Exposure: Experiencing combat can result in stress and trauma. Alcohol is commonly used as a coping mechanism during deployment. 
  • Related Injuries: The misuse of painkillers such as Vicodin and Oxycontin has been on the rise in the veteran community as these drugs are commonly prescribed for injuries incurred during combat and chronic pain after service. The wide availability of opioids poses a great risk for addiction in veterans who have been prescribed medication for combat-related injuries.

What are The Warning Signs of Opioid Addiction in Veterans?

If you’re concerned that a loved one may be addicted to opioids, there are some key signs to watch out for. 3

  • Ignoring Prescription: Those who are becoming addicted to opioids will divert from their prescription. This may mean that they take more than the prescribed dosage or take opioids when they aren’t in pain.
  • Mood Changes: Prolonged opioid use can result in a depressed mood and increase irritability.
  • Preoccupation With Obtaining Opioids: Those who are dependent on prescription drugs may borrow medication from others, pretend to lose their medication in order to obtain more, or see multiple doctors to receive multiple prescriptions.
  • Unusual Behavior: Opioid abuse may result in a disordered perception of reality, confusion, and disorientation. Prolonged use can increase the likelihood of risky behavior, social withdrawal, problems at work or school, and financial difficulties.

Seeking Help for Opioid Addiction in Veterans

Because opioid addiction in veterans is often related to PTSD, it’s essential that service members in treatment for substance use disorders also receive therapy for any co-occurring mental health disorders.

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