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Helping veterans battling addiction and mental health

Addiction and mental health are significant barriers that prevent Florida veterans from living healthy, productive lives. 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 with our veterans, provide drug education, and encourage veterans to find help.

According to census data, in 2022 close to 8% of the adult population in Florida was considered a veteran. While it is impossible to know exactly how many veterans are struggling with substance use disorders, we can make an effort to help those we know are battling addiction or other underlying issues.

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

Drug abuse statistics have shown that Florida has an elevated alcohol-related death rate. It’s estimated that 17.5% of Florida adults over 18 binge drink at least once per month. There is an average of 10,655 annual deaths in Florida caused by excessive alcohol use.

Talking to veterans about their challenges with alcohol or drugs can be difficult but necessary as this constitutes early intervention and could save their lives. Moreover, starting a conversation can be the turning point that ultimately encourages them to seek help.

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.

After starting the conversation, you can ask when they first started feeling like this, did something happen that made them feel this way, or if 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 Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. 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. Take these steps to remove the barriers and help veterans struggling with addiction or mental health issues.

Michael Leach is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant and has spent most of his career as a healthcare professional specializing in substance use & addiction recovery.

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