Opioid Use Disorder in Veterans | Banyan Military Veterans & Recovery

Opioid Use Disorder in Veterans

Opioid Use Disorder in Veterans

The national opioid epidemic affects every demographic, but none as heavily as veterans. According to research conducted by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on veterans and opioid overdose, veterans are twice as likely to die from an overdose than civilians.1 When taking a broader perspective, research shows that more than 47,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose (130 per day) in 2017 alone.2 And considering that only 6 million of the 19.9 million veterans are using VA healthcare, we can safely assume that a lot of these individuals aren’t receiving the help they need. Below is more information about opioid use disorder in veterans and the drug addiction treatment for veterans offered at Banyan. 

Veterans and Opioid Addiction 

Opioid use among veterans is linked to a high rate of injury and chronic pain. Veterans often suffer from physical ailments that are the result of injury and trauma experienced in deployment.  

Common combat injuries in veterans include second and third-degree burns, broken bones, nerve damage, paralysis, shrapnel wounds, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, loss of sight and hearing, limb loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).3 Mental health disorders like PTSD, depression, and anxiety are common in veterans, each of which can contribute to substance abuse.  

While all veterans may be at an increased risk of opioid abuse, below are specific risk factors for opioid use disorder in veterans that could increase their risk:  

  • Multiple Deployments/Tours: Adjusting from deployment to civilian life with spouses and kids can cause significant stress on veterans. Many of them wake up at home the following days after returning from deployment to find that they feel useless or as if they’ve lost purpose. Relationships may also have been strained by the amount of time they’ve spent away from home, meaning marriages and relationships with children may have to be rebuilt. Due to this stress, those who experience multiple deployments are at a higher risk of opioid abuse. 
  • Combat Exposure: Experiencing combat can cause stress and trauma. As a result, alcohol abuse in veterans and military personnel is a common coping method.  
  • Related Injuries: The misuse of prescription opioids like Vicodin and Oxycontin is prevalent in the veteran community as these drugs are commonly prescribed to treat severe and chronic pain. The wide availability of these substances poses a great risk for opioid addiction in veterans who have been prescribed medication to treat combat-related injuries and pain. 

Many individuals turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with mental illness, as well. Unfortunately, the Journal of Addictive Diseases found that veterans underestimate their risk for opioid overdose, exposing a dire need for opioid addiction treatment and overdose prevention among this demographic.4  

Signs of Veterans Opioid Use Disorder 

If you’re concerned that a loved one may be addicted to opioids, below are some signs of opioid use disorder in veterans to look out for: 

  • Inability to control how much or often they use opioids 
  • Uncontrollable cravings 
  • Drowsiness 
  • Sedation 
  • Slurred speech 
  • Changes in sleep habits 
  • Weight loss 
  • Poor hygiene  
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home or work 
  • Frequent flu-like symptoms 
  • Decreased libido 
  • Changes in exercise habits 
  • Isolation from family or friends 
  • Stealing from family, friends, or businesses to buy more drugs 
  • New financial difficulties 
  • Doctor shopping or going to different doctors for multiple prescriptions 
  • Inability to feel pleasure (anhedonia) 

Veterans and opioid abuse research also show that opioid dosage was the factor most consistently analyzed and associated with an increased risk of overdose. Other factors include concurrent use of sedatives and extended-release opioids and the presence of substance use and other mental illnesses.2 Therefore, be mindful of opioid use signs in veterans if they suffer from combat-related injuries or mental health disorders.  

Treating the Veterans Opioid Crisis  

If you or someone you know is a veteran struggling with opioid and/or mental illness, our Military and Veterans in Recovery program can help. Banyan Treatment Centers offers veterans and military drug rehab programs that include medical detox, substance-specific treatment, and mental health care to aid in clients’ full recovery.  


Call Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763 to be connected with a team member. 



  1. Newsday - Fighting pain and addiction for veterans 
  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs - The Opioid Crisis: Treating Our Nation's Veterans 
  1. Watson Institute - U.S. & Allied Wounded 
  1. NIH - Military Veterans’ Overdose Risk Behavior: Demographic and Biopsychosocial Influences 


Related Reading:  

PTSD Awareness: How You Can Help 

Alcoholism in the Military: Drinking During Deployment 

Heroin Addiction in Veterans: Signs, Side Effects, & Treatment 

Alyssa who is the National Director of Digital Marketing, joined the Banyan team in 2016, bringing her five-plus years of experience. She has produced a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. Through strategic marketing campaign concepts, Alyssa has established Banyan as an industry leader and a national household name.