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Addiction Treatment for Veterans

The men and women who have served the United States are often admired for their bravery – and rightfully so. Serving as a member of the Armed Forces is not a simple task, as troops often experience several situations where their physical and mental wellbeing become greatly compromised.

Unfortunately, difficult situations like these can put Veterans from all branches of the military at high risk for struggling with serious mental health conditions and substance use disorders as they make their way back into civilian life. 

This article will discuss the link between Veterans and issues like mental illness and substance use disorders, as well as talk about the many types of treatment options they have, insurance and other payment options, and how to get started on the road to recovery. 

Why Are Veterans High-Risk for Addiction?

Several factors put Veterans at high risk for developing addictions to drugs and alcohol. Some of the most common of these risks include:

  • Exposure to trauma. Veterans with a history of multiple deployments and exposure to combat are at high risk of developing PTSD and other mental health issues. Some veterans with PTSD may turn to substance use to deal with symptoms like intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and sleeping problems.1
  • Sexual trauma. Male and female veterans who have experienced sexual assault are at risk for mental health problems like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Victims of sexual trauma may turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the negative emotional impact of the trauma.2
  • Availability of prescription medications. Veterans may suffer from pain caused by combat-related injuries. In 2009, military doctors wrote around 3.8 million prescriptions for pain relievers. In some cases, Veterans became dependent on these highly addictive drugs.1
  • Barriers to treatment. Veterans who suffer from addiction problems may be reluctant to seek help despite the availability of resources and treatment programs. Some Veterans may be deterred by the perceived stigma associated with seeking treatment.3

The Link Between PTSD and Addiction

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event.1 Symptoms can include reliving the event, avoiding reminders of the trauma, negative thoughts and feelings, and increased emotional arousal (which might manifest as insomnia, angry outbursts, concentration difficulties, being easily startled, etc.).4 Mental health conditions, including PTSD and depression, are closely linked to substance misuse among both male and female veterans.5,6,7

Veterans who are exposed to or witness death, injury, or violence are at risk for developing PTSD in particular.1 Approximately 20% of veterans experience both PTSD and drug addiction.5 In addition to experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, symptoms of PTSD can include:

  • Re-experiencing of the traumatic event. This may involve intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, and physical and/or emotional distress after being exposed to reminders of the event.
  • Avoidance of thoughts, feelings, or reminders of the trauma. This may present as shutting down uncomfortable feelings, avoiding news stories or conversations about war, keeping distance from others who remind them of the traumatic event, etc.
  • Negative thoughts or feelings triggered or made worse by the trauma. This may include difficulty recalling aspects of the trauma, negative thoughts about self or others, blaming self or others for the trauma, sadness, decreased interest in activities, social isolation, and inability to feel positive emotions.
  • Increased arousal and reactivity. This can include irritability or anger, engaging in dangerous behaviors, hypervigilance, heightened startle response, concentration problems, and sleeping difficulties.

Veterans may use drugs or alcohol in an attempt to alleviate their PTSD symptoms. Substance misuse may serve as a distraction or a way of avoiding intrusive thoughts, memories, or nightmares of a previous trauma.5,7 While this behavior may ease short-term pain and discomfort, drug and alcohol use can intensify symptoms of PTSD over time. It can also increase negative feelings and sleeping problems, as well as make it more difficult to work through trauma in treatment. 

Attempting to stop using drugs and alcohol while experiencing symptoms of PTSD can be difficult. Fortunately, Veteran addiction treatment that specializes in helping people with dual diagnosis disorders are available. These programs work to simultaneously treat concurrent disorders which can aid in long-term recovery.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Veterans

A dual diagnosis (or “co-occurring disorder”) refers to a condition where an individual is experiencing both a substance use disorder and a mental health condition at the same time.8 Dual diagnosis is a commonly referred to term among the Veteran community, as many of the men and women who served the United States find themselves struggling with addiction and one or more mental health problem.3

For example, Veterans who are hospitalized or injured during combat are at greater risk for misusing drugs or alcohol.9 This summation can be noted in the 11% of Veterans who  met the criteria for a substance use disorder diagnosis at their very first VA appointment.3 Unfortunately, research shows that Veterans who do develop a substance use disorder are 3-4 more times likely to be concurrently diagnosed with PTSD or depression.9

Given the complexities that a dual diagnosis can present, it is reassuring to know that there are several highly effective types of therapy for Veterans who are experiencing this specific challenge. Thankfully, rehab centers for Veterans often provide a variety of evidence-based therapies to address the issues related to their dual diagnosis and more. Some of these therapies can include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. Also known as CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy can help individuals learn how to modify their maladaptive thinking to improve upon maladaptive behaviors. Typically a short-term therapy, CBT helps individuals develop skills that allow them to individually identify a problem and come to a positive, strategic resolution on their own.10
  • Dialectical behavior therapy. DBT is a multi-faceted therapy that helps individuals accept and validate the uncomfortable feelings they have rather than avoid them.11 Patients who practice DBT often work on developing specific skills to accomplish this and other related goals, including  mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation.11
  • Trauma therapy. Given the high prevalence of trauma among the Veteran population, there are usually a variety of trauma therapies available throughout rehab centers for Veterans. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), prolonged exposure therapy, and cognitive processing therapy (CPT) have all proven to aid individuals through their trauma safely and effectively, making their experiences less pervasive and disruptive throughout their lives.12 
  • 12-Step programming. 12-Step groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), offer individuals a place to obtain support from a community of peers who share similar challenges related to substance use.5 Individuals can attend meetings in their area to listen to and learn from the shared experiences of others while also sharing their own personal testimonies. 

Addiction Treatment Programs for Veterans 

Thankfully, there are several treatment programming options available for Veterans who are dealing with untreated substance use disorders, mental health conditions, or a combination of both. Depending on their own specific needs and goals, Veterans can work with specialists to determine which level or levels of care will address their needs most effectively. 

Veteran Detox Centers

For some Veterans, their treatment begins with detox, which is a set of interventions that helps people through acute intoxication and withdrawal.13 Detox works to clear the patient’s body of all toxins and addictive substances in as safe a manner as possible.13 Veterans who are dependent on drugs or alcohol may benefit from detoxing in a professional setting, where they can receive around-the-clock monitoring and care to keep them comfortable and on track towards recovery.  

Veteran Inpatient Rehab for Addiction

Some Veterans may transition out of detox and into inpatient rehab, while others may begin their recovery journey at this level of care. Also known as residential treatment, inpatient rehab requires patients to live at the facility for the duration of their treatment, which can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months.14 Throughout this program, Veterans will participate in a variety of therapies, including individual, group, and family therapy, and may start the inclusion of medication into their overall care should it be medically indicated. 

Veteran Outpatient Rehab for Addiction

Similar to inpatient rehab, some Veterans may transition from a higher level of care into an outpatient program, while others may start their treatment in an outpatient setting. Outpatient programming can be an excellent option for Veterans who are able to work on their recovery while still residing at home and upholding daily responsibilities. Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), and traditional outpatient treatment options are available, with varying levels of treatment intensity offered in each.14 

Paying for Veteran Rehab

There are excellent benefits to using VA programs that help pay for treatment. For example, the VA healthcare program covers many addiction treatment services both at their own facilities and at some outside hospitals or clinics.15

If you are a Veteran without health insurance, there may be other options, such as paying for rehab without insurance, going to certain state funded rehab centers, or exploring free rehab options. You may also be concerned about paying for out-of-pocket costs and be seeking low-cost rehab options to assuage these worries. Thankfully, we can help. 

Finding Veteran Addiction Treatment Facilities

If you are a Veteran seeking treatment or a family member looking for information on how to help a loved one, support is available today. In addition to treatment available through local VA hospitals, The Rally Point: AAC is a Veteran-specific treatment track available through American Addiction Centers.

The Rally Point: AAC is a great option for Veteran addiction treatment because of its specialized nature, with programming tailored to the unique needs of Veterans. This program focuses on the interrelated factors that impact former military service members, such as trauma, stigma in seeking mental health treatment, difficulties with re-integration into civilian life after discharge, and more. This program is offered at the following AAC locations:

For more information on how AAC can help you, reach out to an admissions navigator by calling when you feel ready. Help is available 24/7. Start your journey in recovery with AAC today by calling us right now, or verifying your insurance by filling out the form below.

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