Addiction & Mental Health Resources for Veterans

Addiction Resources for Veterans

Serving in the military naturally puts you at a higher risk of injury and death. It also puts you at a higher risk for developing a substance use disorder. Even if you were never sent to war, you may have experienced military sexual trauma, difficulty in adjusting to civilian life, or a mental health condition that resulted from the stress of serving. A serious injury during training or a sexual assault can cause trauma and PTSD. It’s not just combat that can cause these mental health issues, although combat certainly can cause them as well.

Veterans Who Have a Substance Use Disorder Usually Also Have PTSD

More than 20% of veterans who have PTSD also have a substance use disorder. PTSD may come before the substance use disorder, or the SUD may have been there first. Both conditions make the other more likely to occur, and they influence each other. People who have PTSD are three times more likely to suffer from substance abuse, and experiencing trauma is a risk factor for substance use disorder.

According to administrative data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, 41.4% of veterans who served in the Vietnam War or later conflicts were diagnosed with both a substance use disorder and PTSD.

Compared to the general population, veterans are at a higher risk of developing PTSD and a substance use disorder. The severity of combat is also linked to the severity of PTSD symptoms that a veteran experiences. Military service members become more likely to develop PTSD as the intensity of combat increases. All of the above reasons make it crucial for those who are serving in the military or retiring from the military to see a therapist. Even if you feel fine now, you want to make sure you fully process the traumas you endured and emotionally heal from them. Has a lot of time passed since you served in the military? You can still benefit from seeking treatment for your PTSD symptoms or substance use. It’s never too late to improve your quality of life and get relief from mental health struggles.

Combat isn’t the only type of traumatic experience that can cause PTSD. Sexual harassment and sexual abuse can also be causes. Some veterans were sexually harassed, assaulted, or abused while serving in the military. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, approximately 20% of female veterans who seek treatment at a VA facility have been diagnosed with military sexual trauma. Men who have experienced sexual trauma are also encouraged to receive treatment. Although it’s not as prevalent among men, 1 in 100 male veterans in the VA system have military sexual trauma.

What Causes Substance Use Problems in Veterans?

Possible causes behind a veteran’s substance use are trauma, chronic pain, difficulty adjusting to civilian life, and mental health struggles. Military drinking culture also puts service members at a greater risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. There’s peer pressure to participate in heavy drinking. Many people are also led to believe, whether through the media or through their peers, that drinking alcohol while feeling down is helpful. Drinking alcohol when you’re feeling depressed, sad, angry, or any other negative emotion increases your risk of becoming addicted. Drinking games also increase your chance of becoming addicted because they cause you to binge drink. Binge drinking comes with a host of other problems, including unsafe sex, high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, cancer, strokes, memory and learning problems, violence, and injuries.

A higher percentage of veterans have chronic pain than those in the general population. More than half of the veterans in the VA system have chronic pain, and nearly 60% of veterans who returned from the Middle East report having chronic pain. If you were prescribed opioids for your pain, there’s a chance you could become addicted. Because of the addictive qualities of this medication, it’s best to not use opioids as long-term chronic pain treatment. Up to 25% of people who are prescribed opioids in a long-term care setting become addicted to them.

Alternatives to prescription opioids for chronic pain management include acupuncture, electrical stimulation, massage, physical therapy, yoga, tai chi, nerve block, and surgery. Meditation, pet therapy, psychotherapy, art therapy, and music therapy have helped some people with chronic pain, too. You have plenty of treatments to try in order to find relief from your chronic pain. A certain combination may be helpful. Each person is different, so you’ll need to work with health care professionals to figure out what works for you.

How Do You Know If You Have PTSD?

Only a mental health professional can diagnose you with PTSD. However, you should know what signs to watch out for and have a basic understanding of the illness to protect yourself. If you have any mental health symptoms that are overwhelming to you or have persisted for months, you should seek treatment. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a mental health disorder. Sometimes, life’s stresses are too much to handle without the expert guidance of a professional.

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Avoiding places, situations, and people that remind you of a traumatic event
  • Anxiety
  • Being easily startled
  • Paranoia
  • Isolating yourself from loved ones
  • Sudden anger
  • Hypervigilance
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Impulsivity
  • Suicidal thoughts

PTSD symptoms usually start three months after a traumatic event, but some people don’t experience symptoms until years later. After receiving treatment, you may overcome the illness after as little as six months. Some people continue having symptoms longer than that. Be patient through the healing process and stay committed to recovering. It’s possible to overcome PTSD and substance use disorder.

In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, at least one month must have passed since the traumatic event. If it’s been less than a month, seeing a therapist can still help you cope with the symptoms and prevent the development of PTSD, substance use disorder, and other mental health issues.

How Are PTSD and Addiction Treated?

Many people feel overwhelmed knowing they may have two serious issues like addiction and PTSD to deal with, which can cause them to delay in seeking treatment. Addiction and PTSD can be treated at the same time in a drug and alcohol rehab that offers co-occurring disorders treatment. Another term for co-occurring disorders is “dual diagnosis.”

New Freedom Academy is a drug and alcohol rehab center that provides co-occurring disorders treatment for those who need it. Evidence-based modalities we may incorporate in your treatment plan include psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, individual therapy, and group therapy. Our mental health professionals will work with you to help you learn how to win against triggers for substance use. You’ll go deep and discover the core reasons behind your substance use, which may surprise you. Many problems that people experience are linked to childhood experiences.

Medication may also be prescribed for use in combination with psychotherapy to help you cope with PTSD symptoms. EMDR, prolonged exposure therapy, and psychodynamic therapy are other types of psychotherapy that may be used to treat PTSD.

If you currently have an addiction, you should enroll in a drug rehab that provides co-occurring disorders treatment. You need to break your body’s physical dependence on the substance through a professional detox before you can get to work on the psychological side of substance use disorder and PTSD. Those who only have an addiction still need to go through a drug rehab program to overcome it.

Types of Drug Rehab

Rehab programs vary in intensity. Residential rehabs provide the most intensive care because you live at the facility during treatment for 30–90 days. They’re necessary as a starting point for those who have a severe substance use disorder. After completing residential rehab, you should go through another type of rehab or aftercare to make sure you stay on the right track for the long haul.

Partial hospitalization programs provide treatment five to seven days a week, but you don’t live at the facility. Each treatment session lasts four to six hours.

Outpatient rehab programs are between nine and 20 hours a week for three to 12 months. If your substance use disorder is mild or moderate, you can start recovery in outpatient rehab.

You should enroll in an aftercare program after finishing outpatient, partial hospitalization, or residential rehab. You’ll create a plan for achieving meaningful goals and staying sober. Periodic meetings help ensure you stay on track and receive any emotional support and guidance you might need.

New Freedom Academy offers an active aftercare program. We also have a sober living facility that gives you a safe place to live while transitioning back into independence. We can provide helpful resources for you to find a new house or a new job. Some people want to make a career change or move into a new home after they finish addiction treatment. Others are happy to return to their homes and continue with the career path they were on. It’s all up to you where you want to take your life. We’re here to provide support and resources.

Government Resources That Can Help With Addiction and PTSD

If you have experienced military sexual trauma, the VA provides free treatment for any physical and mental health conditions that resulted from it. Substance use disorder is a condition that can result from MST. You can contact the MST Coordinator at your VA facility to learn more about programs available to you.

The VA also offers various treatments for substance use disorders. You can find veteran’s substance use disorder treatment programs using this directory or calling us today. The VA runs a Veterans Alcohol and Drug Dependence Rehabilitation Program for eligible veterans. If you had a dishonorable discharge, you can make a request with the VA to allow you to receive benefits.

How Do You Know If You Have Substance Use Disorder?

When your substance use is negatively affecting your life or causing you to experience withdrawal symptoms, it may be time to get help. If your relationships have been damaged as a result of your substance use, this is another sign it has gotten out of hand.

Your loved ones care about you and can be more aware than you are of how alcohol or drugs are hurting you. Since you’re a veteran, they’ll feel even more concerned if this is a change that occurred after your service. There can be a lot of emotions involved in seeking treatment from worries about stigma and the program not working for you. Substance use disorder gets worse over time, so it’s important you go through drug rehab as soon as possible. You have a lot of options in rehab centers to find the one right for you.

Veterans have risked their lives for our country and have thus exposed themselves to trauma. The risks involved are plenty. Some of these risks include developing a substance use disorder and PTSD. We are compassionate to the unique needs of veterans and can help you overcome both of these mental health issues. You also have resources available to you as a veteran to treat these health conditions. Don’t give up on overcoming the health issues you developed from serving in the military. It’s possible for everyone, no matter how severe the disorder is, to get better and live a fulfilling life.

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