Substance use, abuse, and addiction are all dangerous and common. While no one is immune to the trials of addiction, there are factors that can increase an individual’s risk of developing a dangerous relationship with drugs and alcohol. Physical pain and trauma can impact one’s use of these substances in a variety of ways, and veterans can be especially likely to have experienced physical pain and trauma. 

The Emotional Impact of Physical Pain

It is easy to think of pain as an isolated struggle and that once one overcomes the physical aches and sores, one is then “healed.” However, this is rarely the case, and experiencing any kind of physical injury can carry an emotional impact on top of the physical injury itself. For example, someone who breaks a bone playing a sport may avoid doing certain moves or plays in the future or be anxious about others performing similar actions as a result of their injury. 

Veterans may have experienced entirely unique physical pains during training, boot camp, and deployments to active conflicts and warzones. The physical traumas that one can experience as a member of the armed forces can be difficult to process. Many carry an intense amount of emotional damage that extends far beyond the bounds of physical injury and physical healing. 

Addiction and Physical Injury

The first way in which addiction can manifest as a result of physical injury comes immediately when incurring a painful experience. The use of prescription painkillers can be common to deal with the intense physical traumas that one may experience while on active duty, and these painkillers can be exceptionally potent. Their highly addictive properties can develop into addiction quickly. While misusing these drugs in any way other than described on the label is already extremely dangerous, it is also possible that addiction can develop even if one is using these drugs as prescribed. 

Addiction can extend after one is discharged from military service and after one’s prescription has run out. Veterans who have suffered from traumatic injuries may attempt to replace these prescription drugs with street-level alternatives, such as heroin or the incredibly potent fentanyl, causing one’s physical injury to have lasting impacts on one’s use of addictive substances long after the event of the injury. 

Returning veterans
Returning Veterans, Moral Injury, & Substance Abuse

Americans should keep in mind the enduring debt we owe to our country’s military returning veterans. As we honor the efforts and sacrifices of our soldiers on distant battlefields, Americans should keep in mind the enduring debt we owe to our country’s military veterans.

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Coping With Aches and Pains

Even without traumatic injury, there is no part of the military that isn’t taxing on the body. Even in the best of physical conditions, military personnel consistently push their bodies beyond the limit, and persistent aches and pains can be common later in life. These aches can be difficult to cope with, even if it is “just” a soreness as an individual gets out of bed in the morning. Feeling limited by one’s own body as a result of these aches and pains can take a heavy toll on one’s mind, and can beget unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

The use of alcohol or drugs is a common way to cope with this kind of persistent pain, even when the substance use may be causing further deterioration of one’s physical health. Physical pain can be a reminder of one’s past and the past can be difficult to emotionally process for veterans of the armed forces. 

Lasting Scars

Scars can also be exceptionally difficult to live with depending on a number of factors. For veterans, these scars may represent much more than one’s own physical injury. Even if one has since healed from their physical pain, seeing these scars can be emotionally taxing. For some, the scars are reminders of life-threatening traumas from an active warzone. Others may see a scar as a sign of survivor’s guilt if one escaped with their life whenothers did not. Scars can represent entire stories where one’s physical trauma and emotional turmoil meet, and this convergence can be a constant psychic battle. Whether to help process and cope with the intense emotional effects tied to one’s physical injury or as a way to placate traumatic feelings, the use of alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism can be prevalent among veterans. With a scar’s often permanent nature, constantly being reminded of these experiences can be exceptionally difficult. Using alcohol or drugs to forget or dull these traumas is an attempt at escaping their intense emotional effects. 

There is nothing easy about coping with physical pain, but the lasting emotional impact of physical pains and scars for veterans can create a dangerous situation tied directly to the unhealthy use and abuse of addictive substances. These addictions can be exceptionally complicated, mixed with traumatic memories and emotional turmoils that require a unique approach. Understanding the connection between physical pain and addiction in veterans is necessary for creating an effective, trauma-informed plan for healing both the physical and emotional battles veterans face. 

Veterans face many challenges both on duty and in civilian life, and the physical traumas incurred can create a constant emotional battle. At Hawaii Island Recovery, we understand the unique needs of veterans and are prepared to help you or a loved one begin your journey toward overcoming the use of drugs or alcohol. Your physical and emotional health are intimately linked, and we approach each journey to sobriety with the personal dedication necessary to create an individualized recovery plan. We are here to help you navigate your relationship with drugs and alcohol while tackling the underlying reasons behind your use. Your time with use can be personalized, blending together our varied and proven therapeutic options with a dedicated veteran community and the unique spiritual opportunities of the beautiful Hawaiian island. For more information on how we can create a plan for you, call us today at (866) 390-5070.