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The Treatment Needs of Military Veterans with Drug Abuse & PTSD

Veterans are a unique population with unique treatment needs. Common challenges faced by military veterans include:

  • Difficulty reintegrating into civilian life.
  • Serious physical injuries, including brain injuries.
  • Co-occurring disorders such as PTSD.

These individuals may benefit from drug rehab programs that specifically target the veteran population and treat co-occurring disorders such as PTSD.

Rates of Substance Abuse of Veterans

For many veterans, the struggle of addiction is one they know all too well:

Veteran in a therapy session

  • Among veterans who were in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 10% of those who seek treatment with the VA have a substance abuse problem.1
  • Substance use disorders are more common among male veterans than female veterans.2
  • Alcohol is the most abused substance among military veterans.2
  • More than 60,000 veterans are currently identified in the VA system as having an opioid addiction.3
  • Younger, non-married veterans tend to have higher rates of substance abuse. According to data from 2004-2006, 25% of veterans between 18 and 25 met criteria for a substance use disorder, a rate 2x as high as vets between 26 and 54 and 5x as high as vets 55 and older.4

Substance Abuse and PTSD in Veterans

Veterans are particularly at risk of suffering from co-occurring disorders, especially PTSD. In fact, veterans who have substance use disorders are 3 to 4 times more likely to receive a PTSD or depression diagnosis than veterans who do not struggle with addiction.2

The National Center for PTSD also notes that more than 20% of veterans who have PTSD also have substance use disorders.1

PTSD is associated with combat, terrorist attacks, sexual assault, and other traumas commonly associated with military experience.5

Veterans who suffer from PTSD may:5

  • Feel on edge.
  • Experience flashbacks.
  • Avoid people, places, and things that remind them of the trauma.
  • Feel numb or unable to enjoy things they used to like.

These symptoms can be incredibly distressing, and a veteran may find themselves using drugs or alcohol in an attempt to relieve them—a practice called self-medication.6

Unfortunately, veterans who have PTSD are not only at a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder but are also more likely to:2

  • Receive higher doses of opioid prescriptions.
  • Receive prescriptions for both opioids and sedative-hypnotics (which taken together, may easily result in overdose).
  • Receive an early refill of their prescriptions.

With more access to prescriptions such as opioids, it’s all too easy to see how a veteran with PTSD may be especially at risk of abusing substances.

This prevalence of substance abuse and PTSD among veterans creates a special need for substance abuse treatment that can take into account the complicating factors of PTSD.

Treatment for Veterans

Addiction is a major problem among military veterans. While the VA has made numerous attempts to curtail the problem with various programs, rates of SUDs among veterans keep increasing.2

Military veterans often have unique challenges that may perpetuate alcohol or drug use and make recovery more difficult, including:2

Veteran in wheelchair

  • Trauma exposure such as war/combat.
  • A high prevalence of co-occurring disorders.
  • Post-deployment challenges, such as difficulty reintegrating into civilian life.
  • Prevalence of physical injury.

For veterans with co-occurring disorders, integrated treatment is vital. Because substance abuse and mental health disorders such as PTSD tend to feed into each other, it is much harder to recover from one if the other is not treated.2

One study found that individuals who received treatment for PTSD and saw an improvement in their symptoms also showed improvements in substance use.7

Treatment types that may improve symptoms include:2

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy – A therapy that help change thinking patterns to change emotions and behaviors.8
  • Motivational interviewing – Therapy focused specifically on addressing ambivalence and boosting a person’s motivation to change.9
  • Medication-assisted treatment – The combination of therapy plus medications to improve the urge to abuse substances.10
  • Trauma-focused therapies—Interventions that specifically address unresolved traumas.

Our Salute to Recovery program for veterans offers each of the above and also addresses the unique challenges listed above in classes that address veteran-specific topics such as:

  • Post-traumatic stress.
  • Family and relationships.
  • Inaccurate/harmful ways of thinking.
  • Military culture.
  • Hypervigilance.

Don’t let addiction continue to take your life from you. We are here for you with a program designed specially for your needs.