Tag Archives: Prescription Drugs

Is ADHD Medication A Risk Factor For Substance Use

Is ADHD Medication A Risk Factor For Substance Use?

Editor’s note: This article was written by Shannon Freeman who is a ADHD parent coach and the author of the ADHD Parent Supports newsletter.

As a therapist and parent advocate in the field of mental health and substance abuse for the last 30 years, I have been asked many times whether or not stimulant medications used to treat ADHD are addictive. Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer. The answer is tricky.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that a person is born with. It is characterized by a slow to develop frontal lobe and a difference in the way chemicals (especially dopamine) are released in the person’s brain. The cause of ADHD is unknown. We do know that it is hereditary. There are 25-34 genes that contribute to the disorder, according to Russell Barkley, PhD. There is a 91% chance of passing it to your children.

There are 3 types of ADHD:

1. Inattentive

2. Hyperactive

3. Combined

Symptoms may include:
  • Inability to stay focused
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Mind wandering
  • Difficulty with time management
  • Inability to sit still and/or a lot of fidgeting behavior
  • Not being able to wait your turn/interrupting others
  • Memory issues/forgetfulness
  • Impulsive or risk taking behaviors
  • Anxiety
  • Depressed mood
  • Excessive movement and/or talking
  • Inability to complete tasks that the person has no interest in
  • Aggression
  • Irritability
  • Procrastination
  • Difficulty managing emotions

ADHD is considered a disorder of executive functioning skills.

Simply put, executive functioning includes:

  • Time management
  • Initiating tasks
  • Remembering things (long or short term)
  • Controlling emotions
  • Planning
  • Knowing how/what to prioritize
  • Flexibility
  • Organizational skills
  • Self-control (eg. managing emotions and behaviors)
  • Self-awareness (eg. Cause and effect- how your behavior affects others)

ADHD symptoms are first seen during childhood, but not always diagnosed. It has been widely believed that ADHD is a disorder that people outgrow. This is not true. About 80% of children who are diagnosed with ADHD will also have it in adulthood. For some, the symptoms will decrease as they get older. For others, symptoms will remain at the same level.

There is a high comorbidity rate with ADHD and other disorders such as Autism (ASD), depressive disorders, generalized anxiety disorder, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and learning disabilities such as dyslexia. This fact can make it more difficult to get an accurate diagnosis. Because the symptoms that children are experiencing are often not tolerated in schools, public or at home, these kids find themselves in doctor’s offices where parents are trying to eliminate the symptoms. In Western medicine, the go-to to address unwanted symptoms of ADHD is stimulant medication.

What Does a Stimulant Do to a Child’s Brain?

According to a 2013 study, after one year of treatment with methylphenidate. PET scans show that there is an increase in dopamine transporter levels that may decrease the efficacy of the medication. This means that a higher dose could be needed to get the same effect. In the addiction field, this is called tolerance. There is disagreement in the ADHD field whether or not this study shows evidence of tolerance, however. Some ADHD professionals such as Russell Barkley PhD, believe that the brain increases dopamine transmitters in an attempt to create the proper level of dopamine.

Others state that it is plausible that tolerance is building over time. So here is where it gets tricky. There have been many studies that conclude that taking a stimulant to address symptoms of ADHD does not make that person any more likely to become addicted to drugs in the future. So the stimulant itself may not be a factor in leading a person to substance use. However, there have been many people in my office with ADHD and substance use disorders.

They report that they liked the benefits of the stimulant medication and wanted to feel better. Those people changed the route of administration of the medication ( ie crush, inhale, inject) or took more of the stimulant than was prescribed to get a quick boost. This behavior has been found to lead to use of other substances such as marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines. Other studies indicate that some people who take stimulants for ADHD have a higher rate of addiction, although the reason for this may not be straight-forward. Studies have shown that people with ADHD have a tendency toward addiction due to the symptoms they experience.

Risk taking behavior, impulsivity, a desire to feel more focused, etc can all lead to use of substances to self medicate. Of course there are many people who were prescribed a stimulant in childhood to treat ADHD and have never developed a substance use disorder. The problem is that there is no way to know which category your child will fall into.

Should I Medicate My Child?

 Should I Medicate My Child?

This question is asked every day, in my office. Parents often think that they have no choice but to medicate their child because school officials demand it, the pediatrician recommends it, or another parent medicates their child and says it’s the best thing to do.

Other parents feel that they have done something wrong because they are unable to “fix” their child and think medication is the only option. Still other parents are completely lost. They have read information online that confuses them. Whether or not to medicate a child is a very personal choice for every family. The first thing I talk to parents about are the pros and cons of medications.

Medications can be very helpful at decreasing hyperactivity, improving focus, and improving emotion regulation. Improvement may occur as soon as the initial dose. These quick improvements often lead to some relief at home and school. Medications do not improve a child’s ability to learn nor do they replace the need for behavioral skills training for both the parent and child.

Additionally, the possible side effects of medications can be insomnia, decreased appetite, weight loss, stomach problems, anxiety, irritability, headaches, itching or picking at skin, tics, “spacey” or” zombie” presentation, mood issues when the medication wears off, and possibly addiction.

What Other Options Are There to Treat ADHD Outside of Medication?

holistic ways to manage symptoms of ADHD

There are many holistic ways to manage symptoms of ADHD.

Here is a list of some methods that have helped people I have worked with:

  • Weighted blankets help decrease anxiety and improve sleep.
  • Dietary changes– including reducing caffeine, sugar processed and packaged foods, and foods heavy in dyes. A nutritionist or integrative mental health professional can help parents learn healthy choices for their child.
  • Supplements can be helpful in managing symptoms. Again, a nutritionist or trained professional can help you choose what is best for your child.
  • A strict daily routine will help your child know what to expect and can lessen emotional outbursts, anxiety, and confusion for both the child and parent.
  • Compression shirts are also great for helping reduce anxiety and emotional outbursts.
  • Chiropractors who specialize in children with ADHD can help to make sure your child’s body is aligned and functioning at its best.
  • Occupational therapy (OT) is useful to help your child fine tune motor skills, learn to problem solve, learn organizational skills, improve physical coordination, and develop the ability to do everyday tasks in a better manner. Contact an OT in your area to see what else they can assist with.
  • Mindfulness practices teach children skills to stay present in the moment. Things like meditation, coloring, using their senses to ground in the present moment, etc can be very helpful in managing symptoms of ADHD.
  • Relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, visualizations, breath work, yoga, dance, Tai Chi, massage, aromatherapy, music or art therapy are powerful ways to teach children to manage symptoms.
  • Biofeedback is a method of learning to control physiological functions of one’s own body. There are trained professionals in your community that can explain how this can help your child’s ADHD symptoms.
  • Create and stick to a healthy sleep routine. Getting enough sleep is extremely important in managing emotions, depressed mood, anxiety, and concentration issues.
    Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other behavioral therapies can help your child learn to manage emotions, thoughts and behaviors.
  • Controlled screen time can help your child improve sleep, focus, mood, attention and behavioral issues. It can also decrease hyperactivity.
  • Parent education is crucial to creating a safe space for children with ADHD. Special needs require special interventions. Working with a parent advocate or coach can give parents the skills they need to understand how best to help their child.
  • Hypnosis is another holistic method that may help your child manage ADHD symptoms. Hypnosis can help with improving social skills, focus, concentration, sleep and anxiety.
  • Physical activity can assist with creating dopamine naturally. Dopamine is the main chemical stimulant medications help to increase.
  • Social skills training for children with ADHD helps improve self-esteem, confidence, and self-control.

Know Your Choices and Child

Child with ADHD

As with anything, knowing how to use these methods and finding the ones that best fit for your child is essential. There are many types of professionals, as suggested above, who are available to help parents and children manage ADHD. Parents need support to learn how to implement the holistic methods that can help their children and to balance their own needs while giving so much to their child.

Parents have choices. Since there are professionals on both sides of the discussion about the use of stimulants and their potential effect on addiction, I believe it is essential for parents to know that there are holistic methods to manage symptoms of ADHD. If a child learns to control their symptoms naturally, they have negated the potential of uncontrolled ADHD symptoms leading them to self medicate with alcohol, marijuana or illicit drugs and the potential to become addicted to prescribed stimulants.

This article was written by Shannon Freeman who is a ADHD parent coach and the author of the ADHD Parent Supports newsletter.

Her facebook Group ADHD Strength Based Support For Parents is focused on providing strength-based support for parents of children with ADHD. If you would like to learn ways to manage your child’s symptoms of ADHD and have found that medication alone does not yield the results you are looking for, this group is for you. This group helps you, as a parent, focus on the strengths ADHD brings to your child and your family rather than focusing on the negatives.

Fentanyl Overdoses Are Rampant, But Where Is The Drug Coming From?

Fentanyl Overdoses Are Rampant, But Where Is The Drug Coming From?

By now, most of America is well aware of the ongoing opioid epidemic, or has at least heard about it on the news a time or two. However, while most of the country recognizes the names of the most common opioids – names like heroin and OxyContin – and may even have a little knowledge regarding their effects, the true danger of fentanyl remains a mystery to many. What is Fentanyl? Why is it so dangerous? Where does it come from?

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is an opioid, which means that it is a compound that resembles opium in the way it physically or psychologically affects the user. Originally developed in 1959, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid meant to provide anesthetic and pain relieving effects to those who had recently had major surgery. Like other opioids, such as morphine and codeine, fentanyl was first produced for medical purposes.

Fentanyl is over 100 times stronger than morphine, which made it extremely effective at addressing pain during and after surgery. In the 60’s, fentanyl was administered as an intravenous dose to provide anesthetics before surgery. Due to the drug’s usage primarily in the hospital setting, there were no cases of fentanyl abuse at that time.

However, in the 1990s, manufacturers developed a fentanyl patch that could be applied to the skin for long-term pain relief, as well as a lollipop that could be consumed to provide pain-relieving benefits. Cancer patients enjoyed the pain relieving benefits of fentanyl, as well as the reduction in the emotional responses to pain. Unfortunately, recreational users did, as well.

Why Is Fentanyl So Dangerous?

As mentioned, fentanyl is extremely potent – 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin. In fact, even two milligrams is strong enough to cause death in adults. So, why do users risk death with such a strong substance? Sometimes, those using fentanyl are unaware.

In the early 2000’s, drug cartels began cutting fentanyl with a number of other illicit drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamines, and especially heroin. Sometimes, the cut drugs are diluted and sold in bricks; other times, the product is pressed into pills and sold as Xanax, OxyContin, or other prescription medications. Either way, a poorly mixed batch can feature areas rich in fentanyl, which is much stronger than the drugs it imitates. An unsuspecting user can consume high amounts of fentanyl without even knowing they’re using the drug.

What’s the motivation behind cutting fentanyl into other drugs? First, fentanyl’s ready availability from foreign laboratories makes it hard for dealers to pass up the ease of mass production. Compared to heroin, which takes months of growing and cultivating – not to mention land – accessing synthetic fentanyl is simply easier. In addition, the high potency of fentanyl means manufacturers must only include a little in each pill on order to give the user the effects of using another prescription opioid.

Diluting and cutting fentanyl can result in a great deal of money to be made. In fact, street values of a kilogram of diluted fentanyl can reach upwards of $350,000, all for a product that cost only $3,000 in its purest form. In pill form, that same kilogram can result in a million pills worth as much as $20 apiece – up to $20 million in profits for the seller.

Where Does Fentanyl Come From?

One source of fentanyl in the US is legal prescription medications. Some users improperly obtain and consume fentanyl lollipops for recreational purposes. Others remove fentanyl gel from the fentanyl patches and concentrate and inject or smoke it. Still, legal prescriptions are only one source of fentanyl.

Primarily, fentanyl in the United States comes from China, through multiple channels. One way Chinese manufacturers send fentanyl to the US is via direct mail. Consumers purchase fentanyl and other drugs over the dark web; the drugs are then packaged and arrive directly at the consumer’s mailbox, ready for consumption. Since fentanyl is so potent, the product arrives in tiny envelopes, packed in small packages that are easy to overlook with the large volume of international mail that passes through the US Postal System every day.

In many cases, fentanyl via mail is intentionally mislabeled so that it passes through other countries that proved less conspicuous than China. Often, packages travel through countries like Tonga and Canada before finding their way to the United States. Hundreds of shipments are seized each year, but hundreds more arrive at their destinations. When you consider just how potent a small envelope of fentanyl is, hundreds of shipments takes on a scary, new meaning.

However, in other cases the fentanyl pipeline is much more complicated than a direct route from China to US shores. First, much of the bulk fentanyl produced in China gets funneled through Mexico, where it is accessed and distributed by the same drug cartels that push other drugs across the US border. It is diluted, cut with other drugs, and distributed – usually through San Diego – to dealers across the county.

How does the fentanyl cross the border? The bulk of the US fentanyl trade comes from the Sinaloa and Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación cartels. Like many other drugs, fentanyl reaches the US via the cartel’s smuggling routes on foot, via car, semi-truck, or boat. To that end, seizures of fentanyl have occurred in produce trucks, shoes, buses, and in airport passenger terminals.

What Can We Do About It?

Investigators in the United States and Mexico are working together to try and halt shipments of fentanyl from coming into the United States, which includes efforts to cease manufacturing, cutting, and transport operations in Mexico. Border security, mail inspections, and other efforts continue on both sides of the US borders with Canada and Mexico. China, as well, has begun efforts to curb fentanyl production with a series of regulations on the chemicals involved.

Still, officials are fighting a tough battle. Fentanyl has maintained its position as the most commonly overdosed drug in the United States since 2016, when it first surpassed other opioids in that respect. Similarly, between 2014 and 2015, officials saw a 2,400% increase in the seizure of fentanyl at the border. Cooperation among all countries and agencies is necessary to limit the amount of this truly dangerous drug that crosses our borders.

We Need Your Help in Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

We Need Your Help in Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

Countless people throughout the United States have experienced substance abuse in some way, either personally or through a relative or close friend. Although there are many destructive substances causing havoc in American communities, opioids are the deadliest. The numbers of opioid prescriptions, opioid overdoses, and opioid-related deaths have skyrocketed in recent years, and it’s up to everyone to fight this ongoing epidemic.

How Can I Help?

One of the best ways you can help fight the opioid epidemic is by talking to your friends and loved ones about substance abuse. Even if you believe that no one you know is struggling, many people hide their addictions or simply don’t pay enough attention to them because they do not realize the danger. Starting conversations is one of the best ways to drive awareness of this issue, so be sure to talk to the people you know and love.

It’s also important to know how to spot the warning signs of addiction. If a friend or relative starts displaying odd behavior, seems preoccupied when you spend time with him or her, or has sudden financial trouble, these could all be signs of a blossoming addiction. Let him or her know you are concerned, and if you discover that any type of substance abuse is happening, help him or her find resources for treatment and recovery.

Advocacy Programs

Starting conversations in your own circles is definitely helpful, but you can take this a step further if you have the time to join an advocacy group. There are addiction advocacy organizations all over the country, so you should be able to find one close to you relatively easily. When you take part in an advocacy program, you may work toward informing your community about the dangers of substance abuse in your area, but these organizations offer other opportunities as well. People who have completed recovery often participate in such programs to act as mentors, guides, and sponsors to people just starting their recovery journey. You can also plan and participate in community actions, charity drives, and many other events.

Donating To Help Substance Abuse Treatment

Echo Recovery is a not-for-profit organization that helps connect people struggling with addiction to specialists and treatment centers that can help them recover. You can help this endeavor by donating items that sober living and addiction treatment homes greatly need.

Living in a residential treatment program or transitioning from rehab to recovery are difficult times for people struggling with substance abuse, and the items you donate can make a tremendous difference in many peoples’ recovery experience.

Basic items like bedding (twin size), pillows, pillowcases, and comforters help people in recovery live comfortably as they work toward lifelong sobriety. You can also donate paper items and cleaning supplies like paper towels, toilet paper, trash bags, soaps, detergents, and disposable plates, cups, and cutlery. During a stay in a residential treatment program, patients start to relearn the basic requirements of daily life like cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry. Dish soap, laundry soap, dryer sheets, cooking utensils, and pots and pans are tremendously helpful in this regard.

You can also donate lawn care equipment like mowers, weed whackers, and gardening tools. We accept new and some gently used items. Donations can also take the form of gift cards to gas stations, grocery stores, and department stores like Target and Walmart. These donations will allow recovery patients to shop for basic living essentials in their areas. You can also donate nonperishable food.

Questions About Donating?

If you’re unsure what type of donation to make, want suggestions for a future donation, or simply don’t know where to send your donated items, contact Echo Foundation today and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have about donating. We can also let you know of items in high demand or whether a gently used item qualifies for donation.

Mailing a donation of supplies may not work for everyone, so if you’d prefer to make a cash donation, you can do so through the Network for Good. Your donation may be tax deductible as well, so be sure to speak with a tax advisor in your area about your donation to make sure you meet any applicable regulations or donation caps for your area.

Join The Echo Foundation Network

The Echo Foundation blog covers the latest news in substance abuse, treatment, and the latest statistics across the country. We are dedicated to providing the public with the latest and most accurate information regarding substance abuse and treatment in the United States. Continue following our blog for the latest news and to learn more ways you can help those in need during recovery.

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help for veterans with PTSD

For Veterans Suffering Trauma, Prescription Drugs Push Abuse and Addiction

Thirteen years of war and the now ongoing Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Operation Inherent Resolve in the Middle East have resulted in the highest number of veterans of foreign wars since the Vietnam era. These men and women who have made great sacrifices on behalf of our country come home and face a variety of problems, including:

  • Lack of job opportunities
  • Financial problems
  • Homelessness
  • Mental health disorders

Mental health issues – such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders and other stress-related disorders, such as major depressive disorder (MDD) – are especially common due to traumatic wartime experiences. According to a 2015 VA report, around 24 percent of veterans returning from the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD. And about 30 percent of Vietnam War era veterans have had PTSD at some time in their lives.

ptsd military man

PTSD Symptoms

The cause of PTSD is the body’s inability to come down from the flight or fight response and “gets stuck” or the person’s inability to move forward after going through a traumatic event. It can also manifest days, weeks or months down the road when something that reminds the veteran of the traumatic event triggers it.

Although diagnosis can only be done by a medical professional, here are some basic PTSD symptoms. These are not the only symptoms, there are others any of which could manifest or not, because not all PTSD sufferers are the same:

  • Reliving the trauma, hallucinations or having intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event
  • Hypervigilance, feeling unable to relax, always “keyed up” or on edge, irritability with no specific or rational cause, feelings of aggression, etc.
  • Nightmares, sleep disturbances, insomnia, other sleep-related problems


Dept Veterans Affairs Sign

Because treatment of PTSD relies on a certain set of criteria to manifest and if not all those criteria are met, many a veteran is misdiagnosed and not given the proper treatment. In 2014, the VA system was woefully inadequate to properly serve the needs of our veterans. In 2017, after a $10 billion program was instituted to reduce wait times and get vets faster care, the wait times for first appointments and specialty care appointments has gotten better, however there is still a lot of room for improvement, especially in patient care.

Not only do vets still face fairly long wait times, but when they finally see a doctor they are often simply given prescription medications that have a host of potential side effects, including addiction.

Help for Vets with PTSD: Are We Too Reliant on Prescription Meds?

organizations that help vets with PTSD

Trauma-related mental disorders are complicated to treat because each individual has different circumstances and varied responses to medication. Doctors need to be able to carefully diagnose the needs of each individual and try different treatment regimens to see what each patient responds best to, while minimizing harmful side effects. Many veterans also have co-occurring psychiatric issues, such as MDD, which occurs in about 50% of veterans diagnosed with PTSD.

But if it takes weeks and weeks for a vet to get one doctor’s appointment, and even then, getting the right diagnosis within a cattle-call system that still requires a lot of overhaul, then it’s very difficult for vets to get the individualized care they need. Simply giving them a prescription and then hoping for the best opens up vets to the very real risks of drug abuse and addiction, which only adds to the problems our vets face when they return home after serving our country.

The list of medications that can be used to treat mental illness in vets is extremely long (see below). What are the odds that the doctor is going to get it just right the first time when the patient is finally able to get an appointment?

Drugs that vets can be prescribed to treat PTSD-related symptoms fall into the following five categories.

Antidepressant Medications

These can be selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors and are meant to balance the chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters that affect mood and emotions. They should help improve mood, allow for better sleep and concentration.

  • Amitriptyline (sold under brand names Elavil, Endep, Levate, others)
  • Amoxapine (Asendis, Defanyl, Demolox, others)
  • Bupropion or bupropion hydrochloride (Wellbutrin)
  • Citalopram (Celexa, Cipramil)
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil, Clofranil)
  • Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
  • Desipramine (Norpramin, Pertofrane)
  • Doxepin (Deptran, Sinequan)
  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro, Cipralex)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem, others)
  • Flurazepam (Dalmane, Dalmadorm)
  • Fluvoxamine (Faverin, Fevarin, others)
  • Imipramine (Tofranil)
  • Maprotiline (Deprilept, Ludiomil, Psymion)
  • Mirtazapine (Avanza, Mirtaz, Zispin, others)
  • Nortriptyline (Sensoval, Aventyl, Norpress, others)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Phenelzine (Nardil, Nardelzine)
  • Protriptyline (Vivactil)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft, Lustral)
  • Trazodone (Oleptro, Trialodine)
  • Trimipramine (Surmontil, Rhotrimine, Stangyl)
  • Venlafaxine(Effexor)
  • Vilazodone (Viibryd)
  • Vortioxetine (Brintellix)

Anti-Anxiety Drugs

These work by increasing serotonin in the brain and decreasing dopamine levels,or by blocking the effects of norepinephrine, a stress hormone involved in the fight-or-flight response. thus relieving the symptoms of anxiety.

  • Alprazolam(Xanax)
  • Buspirone (Buspar)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Estazolam (ProSom, Eurodin)
  • Hydroxyzine (many names)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan, Orfidal)
  • Midazolam (Dormicum, Hypnovel, Versed)
  • Oxazepam (Serax, many others)
  • Temazepam (Restoril)
  • Triazolam (Halcion, Trilam, others)


Usually used for bipolar disorder, these also work for anxiety, as they treat the hallucinations, aggression and flashbacks that may be a part of PTSD

  • Aripiprazole(Abilify)
  • Asenapine (Saphris)
  • Fluphenazine (Prolixin, Modecate)
  • Haloperidol (Haldol, others)
  • Iloperidone (Fanapt)
  • Loxapine (Loxapac, Loxitane)
  • Lurasidone (Latuda)
  • Olanzapine, sometimes in combination with fluoxetine (Zyprexa, Zypadhera or Symbyax)
  • Perphenazine (Trilafon)
  • Pimozide (Orap)
  • Prochlorperazine (Compazine, Phenotil, others)
  • Quetiapine (Seroquel)
  • Risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Thiothixene (Navane)
  • Ziprasidone (Geodon, Zeldox, Zipwell)

Mood stabilizer

Also mostly used for bipolar disorder, these literally stabilize the mood swings caused by PTSD, by reducing overreaction to stressful situations.

  • Carbamazepine(Tegretol, Carbatrol, others)
  • Divalproex sodium(Depakote)
  • Lamotrigine(Lamictal)
  • Oxcarbazepine(Trileptal)
  • Valproic acid(Depakene, Valproate)

Sleep Aids

These drugs help the brain reduce production of adrenalin and allow a person to go to sleep. Some of these are adrenergic blockers or beta blockers. These all also allow for a restful sleep.

  • Butabarbital (Butisol)
  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • Prazosin hydrochloride (Minipress, Vasoflex, others)
  • Ramelteon (Rozerem)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)
  • Zolpidem (Ambien)

Bottom line: Simply medicating our vets, especially without giving them adequate follow-up care with their physicians, puts them at greater risk for problems stemming from prescription medication.

PTSD and Substance Abuse

Vets with PTSD are at greater risk for substance abuse in three ways:

  1. Some prescription drugs used to treat PTSD symptoms can be addictive.
  2. Vets who don’t get proper treatment for their symptoms may turn to alcohol and/or drugs to ease their symptoms on their own.
  3. Not enough or no psychotherapy or family support to help with PTSD symptoms.

While improper treatment can lead to addiction, many vets simply don’t get any care for their trauma-related illness, which can lead to:

  • Withdrawal from or disinterest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Job loss
  • Financial difficulties
  • Relationship problems
  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt or shame
  • Homelessness
  • Death

woman soldier ptsd

The suicide rate for veterans with PTSD is 50 percent higher than the national average. Overdoses are more likely to occur when substances are mixed (like prescription meds and alcohol), which is more likely to happen without proper doctor supervision.

Vets who have already developed a substance use disorder need treatment for both the addiction and their PTSD. This requires timely access to dual diagnosis professionals who can properly assess the individual’s needs and provide appropriate treatment.

Healthcare organizations that help vets with PTSD and addiction need to use a combination of therapy, medication and other proven treatment methods. The important thing is to ensure that each veteran gets the care he or she needs in a timely manner and with appropriate ongoing treatment.

How Can I Help Veterans with PTSD?

stressed soldierJust as our servicemen and women have fought for freedom abroad, it is up to us to help fight for their well-being here at home. While there’s not a single solution to the problems that plague the VA medical system, our country can find solutions when concerned citizens take an interest.

The first step is engaging in open conversation about the issues and ways to solve them. We invite you to join the discussion online and share your thoughts on how we can better care for our soldiers when they return home.

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This was originally posted on May 15, 2018 and updated on August 8, 2019.