Heroin is an incredibly addictive and destructive drug. While its use is already devastatingly common across the United States, military veterans can be at an increased risk of using the substance. There is no easy way to overcome an addiction to heroin, but understanding the underlying factors at play and the challenges veterans face in their transition to civilian life can be instrumental for recovery.
Heroin has many detrimental effects on the physical and emotional health of veterans. Professional opioid addiction treatment to engage in comprehensive, holistic healing is necessary to begin an effective recovery journey from heroin use.
The Prevalence of Heroin Among Veterans
Heroin use among veterans is common, with around 57,000 veterans having used the drug in 2019 alone. While this already staggering number affects many, it does not account for others who engage with other opioids under similar circumstances. These include prescription opioids, oxycodone, fentanyl, or polysubstance use.
Veterans face many personal stresses and challenges that can inform the development of heroin addiction. Still, the use of heroin does not typically develop in isolation. Stress, trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic, and more are all common following a veteran’s time in service.
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Further, many veterans have lived through life-threatening situations, active warzones, or the loss of brothers and sisters in arms that continue to affect them long after having been discharged from service. The use of heroin or other illicit drugs is common as an attempt to self-medicate these stresses or to “shut out” other traumatic thoughts and flashbacks.
Others may develop an addiction to heroin as a result of physical injury. Using prescription opioids to address physical injuries incurred in the line of duty is common. However, these drugs can also be incredibly addictive. Upon these prescriptions running out, veterans may feel compelled to replace these drugs with illicit alternatives, with heroin being a potent replacement – despite the destructive ramifications of its use.
Recognizing the Signs of Heroin Addiction
Identifying the signs and symptoms of heroin addiction in veteran loved ones is the first step toward pursuing effective heroin addiction treatment. Heroin has intense effects both on the body and emotional state of veterans. Identifying any of the following symptoms is a cause to take action.
Physical Signs of Addiction
Heroin affects each individual in unique ways, including its physical consequences. Some of these physical signs of heroin use include:
- Warm or flushed skin
- Dry mouth
- Wearing out-of-season clothes
- Constantly itching
- Intense weight loss
- Prevalence of scabs or bruises
- Picking at skin
- Injuries take a long time to heal
- Track marks on arms or legs
- Decrease in personal hygiene routines
There are also a number of other physical effects of heroin use that are more difficult to outwardly identify, including collapsed veins, liver disease, heart disease, kidney disease, respiratory complications, and more.
Emotional Effects of Heroin Use
While many veterans may engage with heroin in an attempt to quell feelings of anxiety, panic, depression, and much more, the use of the drug often has the opposite of the intended effect, further exacerbating these symptoms once the effect of the drug has worn off. Some emotional effects of heroin use include:
- Difficulty regulating mood
- Isolation tendencies
- Increase in feelings of frustration, anger, or agitation
- Angry outbursts
Each veteran may also have their own unique experience. The prevalence of stress and anxiety as the effects of the drug wear off can further complicate healing from PTSD or other traumatic experiences, creating a complex, nuanced set of needs for an effective recovery.
Identifying Heroin Addiction in Daily Life
Aside from the immediate identifying signs and symptoms of heroin use, it can also have profound effects on the daily life of veterans. Compromised workplace or academic attendance and performance are common. Veterans using heroin may find it difficult to hold down employment or tend to personal responsibilities. Sudden onset of financial strain is also common as budgets become compromised in accordance with the increasing use of heroin.
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Pursuing Professional Treatment
Veterans are tasked with addressing the continued effects of trauma and PTSD throughout civilian life while also feeling disconnected from the cultures and identities that made up much of their lives. It can be difficult for veterans to truly open up to others in civilian life, and the use of drugs and alcohol is common to cope with these challenges in isolation. While pursuing addiction treatment for overcoming heroin use is necessary, it is also important to ensure that such treatment is curated to the needs unique to the veteran community.
Dedicated veteran treatment programs in Hawaii not only employ direct, trauma-informed therapy but also address the underlying personal, social, and spiritual needs of veterans establishing a new life as a civilian. These programs are instrumental in connecting veterans to like-minded individuals overcoming their own challenges while developing the sense of community necessary for a holistic and effective healing journey.
Heroin use among veterans has a myriad of devastating effects. Finding professional treatment to overcome the use of heroin and the trauma, stress, and other challenges that veterans face that inform its use is paramount. We at Hawaii Island Recovery are committed to a transformational recovery experience, combining effective heroin addiction treatment with personalized support, access to amenities and unique therapeutic programs, and a community of peers and professionals alike ready to support and help navigate the challenging recovery process. We also are committed to the entire continuum of care, helping you move from detox to residential treatment and ongoing outpatient therapy each step of the way. For more information on how we can help you, call (866) 390-5070.