Chronic pain is something that can impact anybody—in fact, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that over 20 percent of adults in the United States deal with chronic pain daily. But when it comes to chronic injury pain, the statistics, risks, and outcomes differ slightly. Specifically, chronic injury is actually something that impacts a different demographic of people more commonly than the general population: active service members and veterans.
Here, we’ll explore the difference between acute and chronic injury pain in veterans. We’ll also look at the risks associated with chronic injury pain and all of the different treatment approaches that make recovery—both physical and mental—possible.
What Is Chronic Injury?
First, let’s begin by looking at the types of injuries that active service members and veterans consistently have to deal with. According to the United States Census Bureau, nearly half of veterans that served after 9/11 reported having some sort of disability that was related to their service. Many health problems that are physical either appear during service or shortly thereafter. These often include:
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- High blood pressure
- Hearing loss
- Joint issues
- Back or neck (cervical) pain
- Sleep disorders
Second, the term “chronic” needs to be defined. There is a difference between acute and chronic injuries. Acute injuries are usually temporary and can be healed in a specific period of time with the proper treatment. Chronic injuries, however, are long-lasting and typically do not improve within a set period of time.
Chronic injuries for active service members and veterans can happen in a lot of different ways. Not only can veterans get injured on the job through combat exposure, military sexual trauma, and other dangerous encounters, but the stress of serving can sometimes cause the chronic injuries to happen.
Chronic injuries don’t have to be physical, either. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety are all mental health conditions that can stem from service experiences. These are also long-lasting conditions that can lead to serious complications.
All of the problems listed above can be recurring, which means that the symptoms come and go. While the symptoms are wide-ranging, one of the most common signs of chronic injuries is having pain. Living with chronic pain can be unbearable at times. As a result, veterans who live with chronic pain from their injuries often turn to medications or other substances as a coping mechanism. Unfortunately, this leads to one of the biggest risks of having a chronic injury.
What Are the Risks of Chronic Injury?
Veteran substance abuse continues to be a huge risk associated with having a chronic injury. In fact, studies show that over 10 percent of veterans will struggle with a substance use disorder throughout their lifetime. The risk of having a substance use disorder increases even more when there is a chronic injury involved.
The reality of the situation is that active service members and veterans often do not have the resources necessary to cope with physical and emotional pain. In many instances, the only solution that they can think of is to turn to drugs or alcohol. While this might numb the pain temporarily, it only ends up causing more issues in the long run.
Drugs and alcohol can actually worsen health problems, particularly mental health concerns. Drinking alcohol or using drugs can cause:
- Brain damage
- Memory loss
- Eyesight deterioration
- Liver disease
- And even death.
Luckily, there are veteran substance abuse programs that are specifically built to help service members and veterans to recover from all of these concerns. Physical, emotional, and spiritual healing begins with substance use recovery. From there, it will become easier to treat any related issues to chronic injuries completely.
What Are Treatment Options for Veteran Substance Abuse?
To treat substance use disorders, veterans should seek out facilities that are made by and for other veterans—this creates a safe environment where everybody understands what all the patients are going through. Another way that these facilities create a safe environment is by offering residential programs.
Residential treatment for veterans allows patients to stay at the facility with other veterans who are similarly on a path toward getting sober and recovering from chronic injuries. In residential treatment, there are many different opportunities to heal from these injuries as well as the side effects from substance use.
To begin, many patients go through the detoxification process in order to get all drugs and alcohol out of their systems. This ensures that they will be prepared for the emotional, mental, and physical work that is required in recovery. From detox onward, the program should be unique to each patient’s individual needs and recovery goals.
This is particularly important for veterans who do have chronic injuries and must find alternative ways to cope with chronic pain and/or the symptoms of mental health conditions. Sometimes, doctors are quick to prescribe opioids as a way to address chronic pain. However, these medications are highly addictive and pose a serious threat to veterans—especially those who are in recovery.
Thus, there are other pathways that many veterans end up taking in order to feel better physically while also remaining sober. These might include things like recreational therapy, nutrition assessments, and various other lifestyle changes. Perhaps most importantly, recovery programs work to help veterans heal from current symptoms as well as prepare for the unpredictability of the future.
Further services that are invaluable to veterans who live with chronic injuries include:
- Veteran-focused therapy
- Communication skill-building
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Group sessions
- Family healing
- Job-ready training
All of these services—and more—can help service members to find peace with their chronic conditions in the present as well as in the future.
The Next Steps After Chronic Injury Diagnosis
If you or someone you love has recently been diagnosed with a chronic injury that is related to service, figuring out the next steps of what to do can feel overwhelming. The first thing to keep in mind is that you are not alone. So many other service members and veterans struggle with chronic injury and all of the physical and mental health consequences that come with it.
You are also not out of luck, even if you have been struggling with a substance use disorder on top of the chronic injury. There are resources out there for veterans who have lost sight of hope. Counseling services, substance use recovery programs, and having the right support to back you up can make all of the difference when it comes to living fully with a chronic injury.
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