Meth Abuse Among Veterans

People who have served in the military are at higher risk for abusing drugs like meth. Meth abuse often co-occurs with mental disorders among veterans and may require inpatient treatment.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, veterans are at high risk for abusing drugs and alcohol. This includes illicit drugs like meth.

Veterans who abuse meth are also likely to have co-occurring mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. Abusing powerful stimulants like meth can complicate emotional and psychological problems and increase certain health risks.

Meth abuse can put veterans at higher risk for heart problems, long-term cognitive impairment, and suicide. Veterans who struggle with meth abuse may need inpatient treatment to treat their drug abuse and any co-occurring mental disorders.

Why Do Veterans Abuse Meth?

The reasons why people struggle with substance abuse are often complex, and this can be even more true among veterans. Veterans who have been exposed to combat or survived traumatic experiences during their service are often at a higher risk for developing substance abuse problems.

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Traumatic incidents can also affect men and women in active duty, who may also turn to substances like meth or alcohol. However, veterans can often face additional issues following retirement from service that may worsen or trigger problems with substances. Veterans may struggle with chronic pain, for instance, as a result of injuries they sustained during their service. In these cases, drugs may be used to self-medicate or as a way to numb their pain.

The transition to civilian life after serving in the military can also be difficult for many veterans. Problems such as job loss, divorce, or homelessness can place additional burden and stress on those who have retired from service. Substances like alcohol or methamphetamine may serve as a balm for physical or psychological pain.

Meth And PTSD

It is common for veterans who abuse meth to have underlying psychological problems. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common diagnosis among both active duty service members and vets. People with PTSD often experience severe agitation and anxiety following one or more traumatic events. This can include combat exposure or sexual assault.

Additional symptoms of PTSD include:

  • flashbacks
  • trouble sleeping, or nightmares
  • paranoia
  • aggression
  • memory problems
  • low concentration
  • depression

According to the National Center for PTSD, two out of ten veterans with PTSD struggle with a substance use disorder. Abusing meth is also more common among vets with co-occurring PTSD than those without.

While meth may be used to cope with trauma-related distress, it is ultimately harmful to both the body and mind. Meth, which can affect mood and cognition, may also further complicate issues with trauma and depression.

Polysubstance Abuse

Veterans may also combine meth with other substances, such as alcohol, cocaine, or marijuana. This can be dangerous, increasing health risks such as overdose and heart problems. Severe cases of overdose or drug dependency may also be life-threatening. Another significant concern among veterans who combine meth with other substances is increased risk for suicide.

Dangers Of Abusing Meth

Methamphetamine can lead to several dangerous consequences when abused. Some consequences, such as overdose, can occur with both short and long-term meth use. Long-term meth abuse can also increase the risk for serious health consequences, including heart complications.

Heart Problems

According to experts, meth-related heart problems have increased in recent years among veterans. Meth is known to cause irregular or increased heart rate. Long-term abuse may also lead to cardiomyopathy (deterioration of heart muscle) or heart failure.

One study conducted at the San Diego VA Medical Center found that eight percent of their heart failure patients in 2015 had a history of meth use. This percentage is an increase from 1.7 percent of the facility’s heart failure patients in 2005.

The same study also found that the age of patients who suffered meth-related heart failure was lower than patients without a history of meth use — with average ages of 61 versus 72.

Suicide Risk

Veterans who struggle with substance abuse are at more than two times higher risk for suicide than those without a drug or alcohol problem. Veterans with co-occurring meth use and PTSD are also more likely to attempt suicide than those without PTSD. This is especially true when meth is used as a way to self-medicate.

Signs of suicide may not always be obvious in any given person, especially when meth is involved. Meth can impair judgment and make a person more likely to engage in risky or impulsive behaviors. If someone is struggling with depression or trauma and is abusing meth, a suicide attempt may occur without previous planning.

Overdose

People who abuse meth also risk overdosing. This occurs in situations where a person has taken too much meth, resulting in distressing and harmful symptoms. Meth overdose can lead to serious consequences, including stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure. It can also be fatal.

Symptoms that a person is overdosing on meth may include:

  • severe stomach pain
  • chest pain
  • very high body temperature (which can lead to organ failure)
  • agitation
  • irregular or stopped heartbeat
  • paranoia
  • difficulty breathing
  • coma
  • seizures

Long-Term Effects Of Meth Abuse

Long-term abuse of meth can have several additional effects on health that in some cases, may cause permanent or lasting damage.

This includes:

  • weak immune system
  • impaired memory
  • insomnia
  • HIV and hepatitis B and C (when injected)
  • extreme weight loss
  • dental problems (‘meth mouth’)
  • violent behavior
  • mood swings
  • hallucinations
  • paranoia

Long-term meth abuse can also cause lasting brain damage. Most often this includes problems with memory and regulating emotions. These problems may continue after a person has stopped using meth, and in some cases may be permanent.

Treatment For Veterans With Meth Addiction

Treatment for meth addiction is a multi-step process that begins with drug detox. The safest way to detox from meth is to enter a medical detox program. Medical detox programs offer a safe inpatient environment for patients to undergo withdrawal under 24/7 medical supervision.

Inpatient treatment can also be effective for people recovering from meth abuse. These programs offer a structured environment for patients to continue working towards addiction recovery with a treatment team after detox.

Inpatient treatment often includes individual therapy and group counseling, which can help patients learn to manage their drug cravings. Veterans with co-occurring PTSD or depression may also benefit from dual-diagnosis treatment.

For more information on meth addiction treatment options for veterans, contact one of our treatment specialists today.

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs - Substance Use Disorders

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs - Understanding PTSD and Substance Use

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence - Alcoholism, Drug Dependence and Veterans

National Institute on Drug Abuse - DrugFacts: Methamphetamine

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