11 Sep Are veterans more likely to develop addiction?
Veteran addiction and substance abuse has been a documented issue in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. Some service members develop a pattern of drinking and drug use during deployment. Others have injuries that are treated with painkillers that can develop into regular use of opioids. The highly stressful situations that combat involves today is significantly different from decades ago, and the emotional toll can result in depression, anxiety, PTSD. Drugs and alcohol can be a way for servicemen and women to self-medicate.
Veterans and addiction
“The military has a culture that discourages weakness. Drugs and alcohol can be a way to self-medicate so you don’t need to talk about what you experienced,” says Henry Magnus, who is both a veteran himself and a therapist at Lanna Rehab.
“People might think they need to ‘be a man, suck it up’. Instead of working through their trauma with a therapist, they go for a drink.”
American, English and Australian veterans have attended Lanna Rehab for treatment. Henry says “it doesn’t really matter where they have served because their stories are all relatable.”
Helping veterans with their sobriety
“A lot of times people don’t understand what veterans need because they don’t understand what happens on the battlefield,” says Henry, explaining that “recounting trauma can be hard work and if you already have an understanding of what someone has gone through it means they don’t have to tire themselves out trying to be understood.”
In the military, a normal part of your day can involve highly stressful situations. Live ammunition and dealing with harmful chemical agents can be a normal day-to-day experience. “Beyond understanding the specifics of what is involved,” says Henry, “it can be hard for most people to fathom the level of stress. If you are on active duty you can have these long stretches of waiting for something to happen and then these bouts of adrenalin when it does. For someone who hasn’t served, it’s hard for them to grasp what that is like.”
Understanding is key
“I used to be a combat medic in Kuwait and Iraq. I spent time in Afghanistan working for the department of defense and cross-trained as a trauma medic. People would lose their fingers from working on tanks, or have bullet wounds.”
As a therapist, it is highly important to understand your clients to help them heal. For Henry, on return from active duty, he observed that the therapists at his disposal had not served.
“I went to the military hospital after a tour of duty. Not one of the therapists they had, had ever seen a battleground.”
Henry found himself frustrated explaining phrases like ‘critical incident debriefing’, that civilians do not understand. In part that frustration was what drove him back to study at 27 years old, so he could become a therapist.
The veteran addiction experience: If you know, you know
“I really believe veterans find comfort in talking to other veterans,” says Henry.
“Culturally we are not encouraged to talk about our own trauma. I realized I was working out as a coping mechanism. I went to a therapist and I stopped feeling shame.”
At the time Henry says “I didn’t realize it was dangerous to hold things in. My thinking had been that time heals everything and with time passing you just move on. In the military, we are trained to be resilient and I was reliant on my own sense of resilience. But, having the realization that speaking to a therapist can help, changed my life.”
With an interest in mental health and his own lived experiences, it was easy to see the value he could bring to other veterans.
“At that time I was in clinical training at the hospital and mental health ward. I started connecting their client’s experiences to mine. Now, I am in a position to help other people make that connection.”
If you are a veteran with an addiction issue, or in need of mental health care, we encourage you to reach out. Please complete the form below, and we will contact you to arrange a time to speak. We do pair clients with a therapist who is best suited to them. As a veteran, you can request treatment from therapist Henry Magnus.