According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 7 Americans 12 years or older report experiencing a substance use disorder. Substance use disorder is often referred to as addiction and is a disease that causes people to have difficulty controlling their use of alcohol, drugs, prescription medications and other substances, even when it begins to negatively impact their lives.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use disorder, it’s important to know that it’s a treatable disease and help is available.
In the Veteran community, there can be an increased risk for substance use disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, challenging events such as reintegration into civilian life and dealing with combat exposure, as well as injuries and pain that can linger long after service can all contribute to misusing substances to cope.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use disorder, it’s important to know that it’s a treatable disease and help is available. Learn more about what substance use disorder is, its possible symptoms and the treatment options available to help you find a path to recovery.
What Should You Know About Substance Use Disorder?
Substance use disorder occurs when you have difficulty controlling your use of alcohol, drugs and other substances despite the harmful consequences. Using drugs over time can cause changes in your brain, leading to more intense cravings and ongoing use. When you lose control over your use of substances, it can impact all aspects of your life, including your health, relationships, work performance, financial stability, mental wellness and more. Substance use disorder can be mild or severe and can affect people of any race, gender or income level.
A substance use disorder can include different types of drugs such as:
- Opioids (includes drugs such as heroin and fentanyl, as well as legal pain relievers such as oxycodone and morphine)
- Stimulants (includes drugs often called “uppers” such as cocaine and methamphetamine and legal stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall)
- Hallucinogens (includes drugs such as LSD or ecstasy)
- Inhalants (includes common household and medical products that produce vapors which can be inhaled such as glue, gas and more)
- Sedatives (includes drugs often used to treat sleep disorders and anxiety such as Xanax and Valium)
What Are the Signs or Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder?
It can be difficult to know when you or someone you love has a substance use disorder. You may wonder how to tell when a social drinking habit or use of a sleep aid has become a problem? In addition, some people are embarrassed to acknowledge a problem, worrying that they may appear weak. Others refuse to accept there’s a problem at all and continue the pattern of misuse without listening to the advice of others.
- Increased urge to drink or use drugs
- Inability to stop drinking or using drugs
- Increased tolerance or the need over time for more alcohol or drugs to achieve the desired effect
- Drinking or using drugs in hazardous situations, such as drinking while driving or operating a machine
- Feeling sick or experiencing withdrawal symptoms when use stops
- Behavioral changes such as frequently getting into trouble, engaging in secretive behaviors, sudden mood swings or angry outbursts, drop in performance at school or work, a lack of motivation, or appearing fearful or paranoid for no reason
- Physical changes such as bloodshot eyes, sudden weight loss or weight gain, deterioration of physical appearance, slurred speech or impaired coordination
- Sudden changes in friends or hobbies
- Unexplained need for money or financial problems
What Steps Can I Take Right Now?
Fortunately, if you suffer from a substance use disorder, you have options. Substance use disorder is treatable and many treatments have been proven to work. Here are some steps you can take right now:
- Begin with a screening. VA has developed a brief questionnaire to help Veterans identify possible signs or symptoms of a substance use disorder. Your results are completely confidential. The assessment is designed to help you recognize when you may need help and is not stored or sent anywhere.
- Be OK asking for help. Sometimes we feel ashamed or embarrassed when our lives have gotten out of control. But often, the people around us are just waiting for the best way to help. You can start by talking to a friend, a family member or your health care provider.
- Recognize that treatment works. If you don’t think anything can help, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Listen to other Veterans share their own stories of recovery on the Make The Connection
- Consider the root cause. You may have additional health concerns that will need to be addressed in order to treat your substance use. If you’re suffering from PTSD or anxiety, or are having trouble sleeping, for example, these things need to be addressed for treatment to work properly.
- Learn about your treatment options and what support is available to you. Check out the information below to get the support you deserve.
Where Can I Turn for Help?
When you’re ready for treatment, you have options, including immediate help for a crisis, inpatient and outpatient care, medications, support groups and more.
- If you or someone you love needs immediate assistance, you can get connected to help right now. The following resources are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
- To reach the Veterans Crisis Line, dial 988 then press 1 or you can text 838255.
- To reach the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for free, National Helpline confidential treatment referral and information services 24 hours a day, check out their website or call 800-662-4357.
- Healthy Homefront has additional articles related to substance use.
- Get the Facts About Opioid Addiction offers information specific to opioid use and addiction including what resources are available to help with pain management, mental health concerns and more.
- Connecting the Dots: PTSD, Alcohol Use and the Support You Need provides information about the connection between PTSD and alcohol use and how you can get treated for both.
- Alcoholism in the Veteran Community: Get Connected to the Support You Deserve discusses the causes behind alcohol abuse and the treatment options available to help.
- VA offers a wide range of treatments to deal with substance use disorder such as different evidence-based therapies and medications.
- TriWest Healthcare Alliance offers additional information on substance use disorder, as well as tools for coping with other health concerns such as anxiety, PTSD 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.
- Findtreatment.gov has information on thousands of state-licensed providers who specialize in treating substance use disorders, addiction and mental illness.
Substance use disorder can affect anyone. If you or someone you love is struggling to control an addiction, reach out and get the support you deserve to live a full and healthy life.