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Talk to your veterans about substance misuse

There is a growing problem within the veteran community. Substance use, addiction, and overdose have impacted many veterans’ lives. Unfortunately, the stigma that surrounds addiction prevents countless veterans from seeking help.

We must continue to destigmatize the discussion about addiction, focus on helping veterans, and highlight how drug education and early intervention play a significant role in reducing substance use, especially with alcohol.

Alcohol is often the catalyst that leads to addiction for many people as it is used to cope with trauma and pain in all forms. In San Diego County, for example, 21% of adults reported binge or heavy drinking, according to the recent data from County Health Rankings and Roadmaps.

While knowing how many veterans are struggling is impossible, we can still help those close to us. California is home to over 1.8 million service members, the largest veteran population in any state. Veterans Affairs reports that more than 2 of 10 veterans with PTSD also have a substance use disorder; there is an increasing need for treatment.

Start the conversation and talk to a veteran about substance use. The simple act of starting a conversation could be a turning point that encourages a veteran to get help.

Begin the conversation by focusing on your observations and sharing your feelings. Say things such as: “I’ve noticed you’ve been drinking alcohol a lot. Is everything ok?” or, “I wanted to check in with you because you have not seemed like yourself recently.”

Once you have started the conversation, you can ask questions about when they first started feeling like this, if something happened, and if you can provide support.

Keep listening to them without judgment, and if you feel there are concerns, call the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988, then press 1. Seek other professional help, such as the Veterans Affairs Resource Locator or SAMHSA.

Before the problem spirals out of control, we can all take steps to encourage more education and early intervention. Drug education works; whether it’s a printable pamphlet or speaking with an expert, it helps increase awareness.

Moreover, intervening early enough may save their life. Make a point of having conversations frequently and be available and encouraging. Tell them to call or stop by at any time. Encourage healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating well, exercising, and adequate sleep.

A veteran may need a person in their life who can provide consistent reminders that things can and will get better. We can all make a difference in the lives of our veterans.

Michael Leach has spent most of his career as a healthcare professional specializing in substance use & addiction recovery. He is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) and the Public Relations Officer at DRS.


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