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Veterans Struggling with Addiction Desperately Need Our Help

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By Michael Leach

Substance use disorders and mental health issues tend to go unnoticed within the veteran’s community.

It can often be stigma, not reaching out for help or loved ones overlooking the problems and noticing the red flags.

According to Census data, in 2022, close to 4 percent of the adult population in New York State was considered a veteran. Since 2010, the veteran population has been declining in New York. While it is impossible to know exactly how many veterans are struggling with substance use disorders, we can make a concerted effort to help those veterans who we know are battling addiction or other underlying issues.

Whether drugs or alcohol, addiction consumes every aspect of life. Alcohol, for example, is often the catalyst for many addictions. We must take steps to remove the stigma, have conversations and encourage veterans to find help.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, only 0.3 percent of veterans 18 and older with a past-year substance use disorder sought treatment. Roughly 4 percent did not seek treatment but thought they should get help. What is most shocking is over 95 percent did not perceive a need for substance use treatment. While there are many reasons for this, it is a staggering number.

New York State has the third lowest number of alcohol-related deaths per capita among all U.S. states, which likely means prevention efforts are working. Talking to veterans about their challenges with alcohol or drugs can be difficult but necessary.

Moreover, starting a conversation can be the turning point that encourages them to seek help. You could begin by saying you’ve noticed they have been drinking a lot and are wondering if everything is okay. You can also tell them you wanted to check in with them because they have not seemed like themselves recently.

Once you’ve started the conversation, you can ask questions like when did they first start feeling like this, did something happen that made them feel this way or have they been using drugs or alcohol to cope with these feelings?

Remember, listening without casting judgment, lecturing or being disappointed is critical. You want to convey love and support and not make them feel guilty or as if they are a burden. If you think there is an immediate need for concern, contact the Veterans Crisis line at 988, then dial 1.

Suppose they ask for help and use the resources through the Veterans Affairs Resource Locator, SAMHSA, or the New York State Department of Veterans Services. Be available for them and encourage them to seek help or reach out at any time.

Having a conversation does so much and can be the turning point for a veteran in your life. Takes these steps to remove the barriers and help veterans struggling with addiction or mental health issues.

Michael Leach has spent most of his career as a healthcare professional specializing in substance use and addiction recovery. He is a certified clinical medical assistant and the public relations officer at Drug Rehab Services (DRS).

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