As of 2012, more than 3.6 million men and women were members of the US military, Military One Source reports. Of them, active duty members account for many, as follows:

  • 546,057 in the Army
  • 328,812 in the Air Force
  • 314,339 in the Navy
  • 198,820 in the Marine Corp
  • 41,849 belonging to the DHS Coast Guard

Being in the military isn’t easy. The dutiful partner, parents, and children alike must bid adieu to their loved one on a regular basis, sometimes knowing it could be the last time they ever see them again. The most recent data from the Federation of American Scientists notes 6,826 combined servicemen and women have died while in combat under Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Inherent Resolve, in addition to the 52,281 who have sustained injuries.

Those who enter combat often suffer long-term side effects that they could never have predicted — many of which are mental health-related, like depression, anxiety, and more. One of the most common issues men and women in the service face post-combat is post-traumatic stress disorder. Among those same individuals in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and Operation Enduring Freedom, a reported 128,496 have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, notes. It is most common among:

  • Military members
  • Rape and assault victims
  • Those who have witnessed a trauma
  • Those who are exposed to repeated traumas
Post-traumatic stress disorder is inflicted at the start by a traumatic event that scars a person’s psyche by causing him to relive the trauma in certain ways, including by eliciting flashbacks. Symptoms will be individualized, meaning the same primary symptoms apply to most, but they vary depending on each person’s own experiences. Symptoms include:
  • Flashbacks
  • Anxiety that manifests in emotional or physical ways over the trauma
  • Avoidance of triggers, including things, people, and places that remind one of the trauma
  • Repetitive and undesired memories of the trauma
  • Nightmares about the trauma
For a veteran or military member who has been in combat, the simplest things in everyday life –things the average person wouldn’t think twice about – may be seriously upsetting. For example, a car backfiring may be terrifying to the PTSD-suffering vet due to the sound it makes being similar to bombs or gunfire. Many veterans and enlisted individuals have to avoid movies and news broadcastings in which there are displays or discussions about war-like events.
Some soldiers even face the effects of PTSD without directly experiencing any trauma. This isn’t uncommon among PTSD sufferers; many can develop the disorder from hearing secondhand stories of traumatic events. Others experience it after witnessing their fellow soldiers being attacked or killed.
A day in the life of someone on active duty is stressful to begin with. Having to leave loved ones behind and put emotional wants and needs aside for one’s career is trying. Those in combat are consistently at a high risk of injury and even death every day. Most people cannot imagine living that way. Not only are these fears real and legitimate, but soldiers must also maintain a brave face and carry on doing their job as expected. According to the National Council on Disability, there are risk factors that increase a service member’s risk of developing PTSD, including:
  • Lengthy deployments
  • Multiple deployments
  • Violation of expectations such as an extension on a deployment
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Shortened periods of time between deployments
  • Having to deal with more strenuous types of combat, like handling human remains
  • Not feeling adequately trained for the job
  • Sustaining injuries
  • Being a victim of sexual assault in the military
  • Lacking uniformity and a tight bond within the military unit
Having a mental health issue immediately makes an individual more likely to have another mental health issue— just one more factor that may contribute in the development of PTSD among soldiers. Approximately one in every nine medical discharges from the Army is due to mental illness, My Army Benefits notes. Another concern is the high rate of suicide among military members — one more reason to raise the mental health red flag. According to NPR, 349 military members took their own lives in 2012 — a number that was higher than the 295 Americans who died in combat in Afghanistan that year.

Substance abuse among service members

Mental illness is also quite common among substance abusers and addicts, and substance abuse occurs with military men and women. Service members are not exempt from real-life troubles that plague everyday civilians, and this includes alcohol and drug abuse.

Substance abuse rates are actually pretty low among service members when comparing them to civilians. As of 2008, the National Institute on Drug Abuse noted only around 2.3 percent of military members reported past-month illicit substance use versus 12 percent of the general population. The most commonly abused substances by military members are prescription opioid pain relievers, which many begin using via legitimate prescriptions that are given after injuries sustained in combat.

A time for change

Help Someone with AddictionThe U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs notes that more than two in every 10 veterans with PTSD also have a substance use disorder. PTSD and substance abuse don’t have to be the way your story ends. Call The Recovery Village today and find out more about the evidence-based programs we provide.

Coming Home: Managing the PTSD of America’s Servicemen and Women
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