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Get the Facts About Opioid Addiction

Anyone who takes prescription opioids can become addicted to them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when people are prescribed opioids for pain, as many as 1 in 4 patients end up struggling with opioid addiction.

Opioid addiction and overdose deaths are on the rise in this country, but there are several resources designed to help you and other Veterans get the services and support you deserve.

In the Veteran community, there can be an increased risk for opioid addiction. Multiple deployments, readjustment to civilian life, mental health concerns such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), combat exposure and related injuries can all contribute to a desire to self-medicate.

If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid use, it’s important to learn the facts about opioid addiction and overdose, as well as the resources available to make sure you can control your pain, deal with any mental health concerns and get the support you need to thrive.

Opioid Basics 

Opioids are a class of drugs used to reduce pain. They are often prescribed after surgery, for an injury or chronic pain. Common opioids include:

  • Oxycodone (such as OxyContin)
  • Hydrocodone (such as Vicodin)
  • Methadone (a synthetic opioid used to treat pain, as well as to treat opioid use disorder)
  • Fentanyl (a synthetic opioid approved to treat severe pain, 100 times more potent than morphine)
  • Heroin (an illegal, highly addictive opioid)

Legal or illegal, prescribed or not, these drugs are responsible for a rising opioid addiction epidemic in the United States and the majority of overdose deaths in our country.

The Opioid ProblemMan stretching before running

Opioids are highly addictive and are not effective for long-term relief. As you continue to take opioids, your body develops a tolerance, making them less effective. This can begin a cycle of dependence, as you need more just to feel the same effects. As the cycle continues, you are at increased risk for addiction and overdose.

If you’re concerned that you or a loved one may be addicted to opioids, here are some key signs to watch out for:

  • Mood changes — You may find you are depressed and have increased irritability.
  • Prescription abuse — You may find yourself diverting from your prescription recommendations, meaning you start taking more than the prescribed dosage.
  • Preoccupation with obtaining opioids — If you’re becoming dependent on opioids, you may ask to borrow medication from others, pretend to lose it to get more or seek out multiple doctors to get more than one prescription.
  • Unusual behavior — Opioid abuse may result in confusion, disorientation, social withdrawal, problems at work or school and financial issues.

American Addiction Centers has an online self-assessment tool you can use to determine whether you or someone you love may have an opioid addiction. It is confidential and anonymous.

Opioids in the Veteran Community

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1.6 million people had an opioid use disorder in the past year. This is a problem across our country, in every demographic, but it’s helpful to be aware of the risk factors associated with the Veteran community.

  • Veterans are more likely to suffer from chronic pain, which may result in an opioid prescription or desire for pain medication.
  • Mental health disorders, such as PTSD, can lead to increased risk for self-medication.
  • Combat exposure can lead to stress and trauma.
  • Reintegration from deployment to civilian life can cause significant stress and increase the risk for substance abuse.
  • Injuries incurred during combat can lead to a prescription for opioids, which increases a person’s risk for misuse.

Understanding these specific risk factors can help Veterans manage their health care and understand the problems that can come with opioid use. Non-drug treatments for chronic pain, as well as other options for mental health therapy, can help Veterans avoid opioid use and addiction.

Resources Available to Help

Opioid addiction and overdose deaths are on the rise in this country, but there are several resources designed to help you and other Veterans get the services and support you deserve.

Young woman in group therapy

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a wide range of treatment options and services to deal with opioid addiction, as well as chronic pain issues and mental health struggles that can lead to problems with opioids.

  • Mental health services: Because opioid addiction often relates to mental health struggles, getting into therapy or treatment to address these concerns can help.
  • Overdose prevention and education: VA offers Veterans free access to naloxone, a life-saving medication designed to block the effects of potentially fatal opioid overdose.
  • VA offers alternative therapies for chronic pain management:
    • Self-management techniques such as physical activity, stretching and relaxation can help with chronic pain. VA has apps and courses you can use to create an individualized plan.
    • Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Chronic Pain equips you with ways to reduce pain intensity, improve your quality of life, manage flare-ups and more.
    • Complementary treatments include trying a variety of things to reduce pain such as acupuncture, massage, chiropractic manipulation, yoga and more.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also offers some resources that may help.

  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline provides free, confidential treatment referral and information services 24 hours a day. Get connected to local treatment facilities, support groups and more.
  • SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator can help you find a treatment facility that’s right for you. The entire process is confidential and anonymous.

If you or a loved one is struggling to manage opioid addiction, make sure to seek out the support you deserve. There is no shame in asking for help.

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