The men and women who serve in the military may return home as heroes but they are often dealing with a myriad of problems after completing their service. Veterans often must cope with severe pain because of combat-related injuries and mental health problems such as PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Those who suffer from mental health issues are usually even more likely to be prescribed addictive opioid painkillers than those with physical pain alone. These medications can sometimes exacerbate existing problems by causing veterans to develop complicated addictions that are strongly connected with their mental condition.
Vets tend to be at high risk for drug and alcohol abuse and the frequency with which they are prescribed addictive drugs can lead to tragic consequences.
PTSD Symptoms and Treatment
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a particularly common problem for people returning home from serving in a war. Some of the painful and often terrifying situations that they experience while in combat can trigger this disorder.
Symptoms of PTSD typically involve flashbacks of the events of the war as well as nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrolled thoughts about their past experiences. The problems associated with PTSD can last for months and even years while interfering with a person's ability to function.
Psychotherapy can help reduce some of the symptoms but many veterans are also prescribed powerful opioids because of issues with pain which can make their situation more complex and dangerous. Studies show that veterans with PTSD are twice as likely to be prescribed opioids as those without mental health problems.
They are also more likely to be given more than one opioid and to receive the highest dose. Vets with existing substance abuse problems in addition to their PTSD symptoms are four times as likely to be given painkillers as those without any mental health problems.
Consequences of Opioids Combined with PTSD
Unfortunately, the likelihood that veterans with PTSD will be prescribed opioids can lead to dire consequences. Those who received these drugs in spite of their mental health problems had higher numbers of suicides, self-inflicted injuries and drug and alcohol overdoses.
These types of studies reveal how challenging and often dangerous it can be to treat veterans who are dealing with both injuries and difficult mental health issues that interfere with their daily life. While they may need some type of painkiller for their injuries, they may benefit from different, less risky forms of treatment that will not complicate their situation or lead to addiction.
Many veterans could benefit from therapies other than drugs that would work to alleviate some of their PTSD symptoms. Some physicians prescribe powerful opium-based drugs like morphine and hydrocodone in the hope that it will help veterans alleviate both their emotional distress and their chronic pain problems.
However, the reality is that these drugs often make emotional problems worse and lead to a cycle of addiction.
Alternative Treatment Options
The situation that veterans deal with following their time spent fighting a war is complex and difficult to treat. The best approach that would avoid the risk of veterans developing problematic addictions is to provide non-drug based treatment for their PTSD symptoms from mental health experts, occupational therapists and other specialists.
If vets are also dealing with chronic pain then they should be prescribed non-opiate painkillers first before trying opioids as a solution. Physicians in the past have been too quick to prescribe opioids when there are other options available that could reduce the risk of addiction and the consequences of using powerful painkillers.
With a different approach, physicians could provide both relief for the patient's pain and effective therapy that would help them manage their mental health issues.