How Veterans Experience Addiction | Veterans Day 2020

Each year on November 11th, we observe Veterans Day: a time to honor the sacrifices and contributions of servicemen and women nationwide. These individuals have given so much to ensure the health, safety and freedom of those back home. However, they are also at an increased risk of addiction and other co-occurring disorders. Today on the blog, we’ll examine the ways in which veterans experience addiction.


Contributing Factors

A career in the military is honorable and rewarding; unfortunately, it also comes with its share of risks. Veterans who have seen combat are likely to experience trauma. Witnessing traumatic events, losing a friend, being sexually assaulted, being separated from family for months at a time, having a near-death experience or receiving a serious injury can all contribute to lifelong trauma after one’s service has concluded. This may eventually become post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which some refer to as battle fatigue or shellshock.

Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, insomnia, relationship problems, irritability, difficulty concentrating, memory problems and self-destructive behavior. Individuals with PTSD are more likely than the general population to develop a substance use disorder. Conversely, those dealing with addiction are also more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD. These conditions feed into each other, which is why it is vital for veterans to receive the treatment they need.


Statistics: Veterans and Addiction, PTSD

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than two out of ten veterans with PTSD also have a substance use disorder. Additionally, one in three veterans seeking treatment for addiction also has PTSD.

After the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, about one in ten returning veterans seen by the VA have developed a problem with alcohol or other drugs. Finally, those with PTSD and alcohol problems are more likely to binge drink, which is defined as consuming a significant amount of alcohol (4+ drinks) in a short period of time (one or two hours).


Addiction and Trauma

Often, those with severe symptoms of PTSD, depression or anxiety will turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate. Men and women who are struggling to sleep, control their thoughts or calm their anxieties, for example, may attempt to drink or drug in order to alleviate these symptoms. Others may seek to treat chronic pain which has developed as a result of an injury during a deployment.

Well-meaning providers may contribute to this problem by prescribing highly addictive medications. Veterans are commonly prescribed…

  • Sedatives (Lunesta, Ambien)
  • Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax)
  • Painkillers (opioid medications like Vicodin and OxyContin)

When used correctly, these drugs may treat the anxiety, depression and chronic pain experienced by former members of the armed forces. However, they may cause veterans to develop a tolerance, which results in them taking higher dosages to achieve the same effects. This pattern can quickly devolve into a struggle with substance abuse.

Some people may believe that, with time, PTSD and addiction will go away on their own. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In fact, these conditions are progressive, meaning that they tend to worsen when left untreated. We encourage veterans with these concerns to enter a treatment program as soon as they are able.


Treatment for Veterans

Luckily, veterans have a wide variety of treatment options for addiction and co-occurring mental health concerns. Individuals who are struggling with these disorders should seek immediate help from a credentialed treatment center.

For those whose condition is severe, inpatient or residential treatment may be the best fit. In these programs, veterans can live on-site and receive 24/7 care from clinical professionals. This is particularly helpful for those who require medically managed detoxification before beginning primary treatment. Treatment in this setting includes…

  • Comprehensive assessment and evaluation
  • Fully individualized treatment plans
  • Group work
  • 12-Step meetings
  • Relapse prevention training
  • Family education and therapy sessions
  • Life skills training
  • Individual therapy sessions

Outpatient programs are ideal for veterans who are balancing work, childcare and other responsibilities while seeking treatment. These sessions involve the same therapeutic elements in a flexible schedule, often at a lower cost. Outpatient programming allows participants to heal from addiction and co-occurring disorders while remaining at home.

After primary treatment has concluded, it is recommended that veterans follow certain step-down and aftercare recommendations. For example, local 12-Step meetings provide accountability, peer support and structure in early recovery. Additionally, alumni meetings and regular therapy sessions can help to navigate the challenges faced after treatment has concluded. With professional help and dedication, it is possible to recover.


Treatment for All

At Cumberland Heights, we recognize the incredible sacrifices made by members of the armed forces and their families. We provide comprehensive treatment for those struggling with trauma, depression, anxiety and addiction. For more information about our programming, please contact Cumberland Heights today.