For many of us, the Fourth of July holiday is a celebration we look forward to. Cookouts, fireworks and time off work has us excited to celebrate our freedom and our nation’s birthday. For those who fought to secure those freedoms, however, Independence Day can feel difficult – a flood of painful memories and a reminder of those who never made it home.
The life of a veteran can be difficult. They head off to battle, full of hope, with a desire to protect our country and make a difference. Too often, they return as a broken, misplaced remnant of who they once were. For veterans, the battle doesn’t stop once they are off the field. Memories of fallen friends, flashbacks, nightmares and physical pain continue to plague both mind and body long after the war is won.
The Battle After the Battle
On top of leaving the service, veterans also find themselves having to completely rewire their way of thinking to rejoin civilian life. Veterans have to make a very difficult transition from military life which is very structured with a clear chain of command back to daily civilian life that is much less structured and that may feel chaotic and overwhelming.
Life in service can put individuals at high risk for developing substance use and mental health disorders, making it difficult to:
- Manage a work/life balance.
- Protect against stress-related disorders.
- Identify the impacts of their military service on self and family.
- Connect with the emotions of others.
- Recognize the beginning stages of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Military training involves a complete remaking and rebuilding as a soldier during basic training. Veterans have been trained to act and react without hesitation, going against every moral compass you have for the protection of your nation’s people. Unlike the popular video games, this call of duty doesn’t have a simple reboot to the world. Life for those in the services changes drastically in short amounts of time and the mind cannot always keep up.
Substance Abuse and PTSD
For many veterans, they find their escape from their trauma and PTSD through alcohol and substances. They may find they cannot even sleep, relax or manage interactions without the comfort of a drug. What seems like a welcome help, however, is actually doing more harm than good as Veterans keep to their training – not admitting weakness or the need for help, but rather maintaining the façade of strength at the cost of their mind.
Outcome studies have shown that PTSD not only effects those who serve, but also their loved ones as well. They believe themselves to be “coping” with PTSD symptoms by drinking heavily, using drugs, or smoking too much. In truth, they are keeping themselves locked in a cycle, as PTSD and substance abuse disorder are well known allies.
The National Center for PTSD found the following:
- Over 20% of veterans who suffer from PTSD have co-occurring SUDs.
- Approximately 30% of veterans who seek addiction treatment also suffer from PTSD.
- An estimated 10% of veterans returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan have a problem with drug or alcohol abuse.
The good news is that treatment works, and therapy can target both problems at the same time. Unfortunately, veterans may hesitate to access treatment, afraid to admit they need help. They may also be unwilling to enter treatment with civilians who don’t understand their unique background and struggles.
Finding Hope Again
The good news is there is hope. Our returning heroes don’t have to rely on substances and alcohol to have a successful reintegration to life. Treatment options are available, targeted specifically to their needs and experience. Dual diagnosis programs – such as the Salute to Recovery Program at Desert Hope – are dedicated to military veterans and first responders whose lives have changed and become unmanageable due to substance use, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mental health issues.
Our treatment team utilizes proven treatment methods that are focused on resiliency and assist in developing solid strategies to promote positive decision-making and permanent healthy lifestyle changes. Embedded in the Salute to Recovery is the First Responder and Military Lifeline curriculum that was created by American Addiction Centers in collaboration with Employment Assistance Professionals. The program includes the following topics:
- First Responder and Military Culture.
- The Hypervigilant Rollercoaster.
- Character and Values.
- Impact of Stress.
- Post Traumatic Responses.
- Family & Relationships.
- Cognitive Distortions.
- Needs in Recovery.
If you or a loved one find yourself struggling this Independence Day, know that freedom is possible. Freedom can be found in a phone call, partnering with an Admissions Navigator and helping to connect our veterans with the treatment they not only need, but deserve.