Nov. 11 is a day to honor all armed U.S. Military veterans. The selfless actions of all the veterans are apparent as they are deployed leaving their families, friends and homes behind. As some veterans return from combat, many are looking forward to a time of normalcy with their families.
Unfortunately, many struggle to find the peace they had prior to being deployed. The ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to strain military personnel, returning veterans, and their families. Thousands of veterans are returning home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain injury (TBI) and other illnesses and injuries, which is a contributing factor leading to substance abuse and addiction, overdose, homelessness, and suicide.
Several studies have been conducted to determine the severity of alcohol and other drug use amongst service personnel. After the Gulf War in 1991, the Department of Defense recognized that there was a need to collect more information about the long-term health of service members. The government launched The Millennium Cohort Study back in 2001 and is expected to go through 2022. The Millennium Cohort Study will follow military personnel health throughout their careers and after leaving military service. Alcohol use and alcohol-related problems is one health risk they are researching.
Some veterans are using alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with the unresolved pain and memories. This study found a significant increased risk for new-onset heavy weekly drinking, binge drinking, and other alcohol-related problems among Reserve/Guard personnel deployed with reported combat exposures compared to those that are not deployed. For more information about this study, go to www.millenniumcohort.org.
The Department of Defense Health Behavior survey also revealed that there was an increase in heavy alcohol use, as well as prescription drug use. The military environment poses challenges in regulating the use of prescription drugs. Valium and Xanax, highly addictive psychotropic drugs, sometimes are prescribed to service personnel in 90 or 180 day supplies, often used to treat depression. This amount allows them an opportunity to trade the pills or take fistfuls of pills at a time, making them more vulnerable to addiction.
The National Institute of Health collaborating with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have developed more research projects related to substance abuse and related conditions experienced by veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. There are several projects that will explore the following topics: Therapies for co-occurring disorders, such as, depression and substance abuse; the effectiveness of early interventions for recently returning service personnel; the high rates of smoking among returning military personnel; and the impact of a youth substance abuse prevention intervention designed for parents returning from deployment.
On Aug. 31 President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order to improve mental health services for Veterans, Service members and military families. The executive order includes the following key items: Strengthen suicide prevention efforts across the force and in the veteran community; Enhance access to mental health care by building partnerships between the Department of Veterans Affairs and community providers; Promote mental health research and development of more effective ways to prevent, identify and treat PTSD, TBI and other related injuries; and Increase the number of VA mental health providers serving veterans.
If you are a veteran or a loved one in a military family and are looking for help, please contact the Chautauqua Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Council (CASAC) at 664-3608 or 366-4623. Our Information and Referral department includes a confidential service that provides information, education, early intervention, screening and, if necessary, referral to treatment providers. Topics range from basic alcohol and other drug information to chemical dependency, compulsive gambling and addiction issues.
Since 1974, CASAC, a United Way supported agency, has provided prevention education and community awareness regarding alcohol and other drugs. CASAC is the only New York State Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) approved and supported alcohol and other drug prevention agency in Chautauqua County.
For further information about CASAC programs and services, call the Jamestown office at 664-3608, or the Dunkirk office at 366-4623, or go to CASAC's website, www.casacweb.org.
Melanie Witkowski, is the prevention coordinator of school-based services for the Chautauqua Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Council.