Drug Rehab Guides for Addicted Veterans & Their Families

Last Updated: December 31, 2019

Veterans returning home from military deployment and combat may face a number of challenges when trying to adjust back to civilian life.

Arguably, one of the biggest challenges is coping with any traumas they may have endured during deployment, such as significant injury, witnessing the death of a peer, or sexual assault.

The rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are high for veterans, specifically for those in the Army or Marine Corps who experienced moderate to severe combat. These veterans may also show signs of other mental health issues, drug abuse, and other physical health issues relating to the traumas they experienced during their military service.

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Veterans and Addiction

One study found that 11% of veterans seeking services for the first time from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) met the criteria for a substance use disorder.2,3

The reasons behind this are complex, but contributing factors include issues such as physical disabilities and mental health problems, as well as the prescribing of addictive opioids for pain and injuries. The trauma of combat may also contribute to substance abuse.4

Veterans who have mental health issues may also hesitate to seek help due to the perceived stigmas around mental health disorders and turn to alcohol and/or other drugs to self-medicate their symptoms.5

Stress and Challenges of Civilian Life

Military service, especially deployment to combat zones, is rife with extreme stress. Veterans may come back having witnessed or participated in significantly traumatic events.6 They may be injured or dealing with issues such as:6,7,8

  • Chronic pain.
  • PTSD, depression, or other mental health issues.
  • Substance dependence or addiction.
  • Homelessness.

Leaving the military and returning to civilian life requires a period of readjustment that can be very challenging and uncomfortable for any veteran.8 When you add the issues of injury, pain, trauma, and drug or alcohol addiction, it’s easy to see just how many uphill battles a veteran may face.

Unfortunately, many veterans may not get the help they need due to an unwillingness or inability to seek help. Without the help they need, they may be at higher risk of suicide.8 The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that suicide rates among veterans exceed those of the general population.8 In 2014, approximately 20 veterans committed suicide every day.8

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is common among active-duty service members, and unhealthy drinking habits can continue long after military service has ended.9 An 8-year study from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states that 10% of first-time users received an alcohol use disorder (AUD) diagnosis.10 Substance Abuse Among Military

Combat exposure appears to be a major risk factor for alcohol problems in military personnel. A study looking into the alcohol consumption of 1,100 soldiers who had been part of a brigade infantry team returning from deployment found a correlation between combat (especially exposure to threats and atrocities) and alcohol misuse.11 An estimated 25% of those who were sampled were misusing alcohol 3-4 months after deployment.11 Of those, 12% experienced behavioral problems related to their alcohol use.11

Drug Use and Abuse

Veterans are at risk of developing a dependence or addiction to opioid painkillers if they obtain a prescription for pain or injury.8 However, there have been efforts to prevent opioid misuse and addiction. From 2011 to 2015, the number of service members using opioid painkillers decreased by approximately 50%.8

There is evidence to suggest that harm associated with the misuse of prescription opioids can lead to an increased risk of dependence. It has been reported that 2 out of 10 veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD are also diagnosed with a substance use disorder (SUD).14

The United States Army released a memo to warn that treating PTSD with benzodiazepines was not worth the risk and that it might worsen the patient’s fear and delay their recovery from trauma.15

Veterans, similar to many civilians, are also at risk for developing substance use disorders with illicit drugs, such as marijuana. In a 2017 survey of veterans, 4% reported using illicit drugs. Of that subset, 3.5% were using marijuana.16

Some data suggests that veterans are more likely to be smokers.17 With the rates of veterans who smoke (27%), health conditions caused by smoking, such as coronary heart disease, are cause for concern.17

AAC Salute to Recovery Program

American flag with stethoscope

American Addiction Centers (AAC) offers many programs focusing on alcohol and substance abuse in our treatment centers across the country. The Salute to Recovery Programs at Desert Hope and Recovery First were created specifically for veterans.

Salute to Recovery is dedicated to military veterans who have been diagnosed with substance abuse and other co-occurring mental health diagnoses.

Serving in the U.S. military can potentially lead to a higher risk for developing substance use and mental health disorders for many individuals, making it difficult to:

  • Manage a work/life balance.
  • Protect against stress-related disorders.
  • Identify the impacts of addiction on themselves and family.
  • Connect with the emotions of others.
  • Recognize the beginning stages of PTSD.

Our treatment team and healthcare professionals understand the obstacles and difficulties in life, how they can lead to addiction, and the requirements for specialized treatment and unique recovery programs for those with a military background.

Salute to Recovery is an evidence-biased treatment program offering inpatient care that addressed the health and wellness of the entire patient. Treatment can include:

  • Family therapy.
  • Group work.
  • Individual therapy.
  • Intensive relapse prevention.
  • Life skills.
  • Medical stabilization and detoxification with medical monitoring.
  • Multidisciplinary assessment and testing.
  • Wellness program.

Our Admissions Navigators are always available to assist you.

Call Now (888) 902- VETS

AAC’s admissions navigators will educate you on what the process looks like and what is needed in order for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to pay for a private facility on your behalf.

They will instruct you to call your local VA office to schedule and complete a mental health consultation. During that consult the VA will determine if they have the resources for your specific needs. If you don’t have insurance or another means to pay for treatment (private pay), you can utilize benefits with the VA to receive care based on availability.

Therapies in the Salute to Recovery program focus on helping veterans create strategies for positive decision-making and lifestyle changes. Here are some of the therapies included in the Salute to Recovery program:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT): Patients will learn how to identify and shift negative thinking patterns, as well as behaviors, to live a healthier and happier life.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing(EMDR): This helps patients find resolutions to traumatic and disturbing events and life experiences.
  • Family Systems Theory: This therapy looks at the family as an emotional unit and explores its complexity to help veterans find their places in the family unit after service.
  • Pain Management Group: This will teach veterans how to addresses and deal with pain and physical injuries from military service.

Insurance Covers Treatment

AAC accepts many insurance providers that are in-network, including TRICARE, to aid in covering treatment programs. TRICARE covers active duty members, veterans, activated guard and reserve members, and military family members. To learn more about your coverage, call the number found on your insurance card.

Veterans and Mental Health

In 2018, over 1.7 million veterans were treated in a VA mental health specialty program.18 As mentioned above, harsh conditions and traumatic events that some service members face during their time in military, it only seems obvious that veterans could suffer from mental health conditions.

According National Institute of Mental Health, in 2017 about 1 out of 5 adults were living with a mental health condition, ranging from mild to severe.19

Traumatic Brain Injuries

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the result of an impact to the head, causing the damage to the brain.20 TBI symptoms include:21

  • Behavioral changes.
  • Issues with memory, attention, language, or problem-solving speed.
  • Sensitivity to light and noise.
  • Sleep impairment.

In addition, veterans suffering from a TBI can show signs of changes in personality, which can be concerning to family members and love ones.22

A study published in 2018 from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs looked at the connection between TBI and suicidality specifically in veterans who were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.23 There is evidence that those with TBI are commonly diagnosed with co-occurring mental health issues like PTSD and depression may have an increased risk of suicide.23 About 20% of veterans have experienced some level of a TBI24; 80% of those were diagnosed with mild to severe TBI. 25

PTSD and Substance Abuse

PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, also referred to as “shell shock” or “combat fatigue,” is a mental health condition that can be a diagnosis for those that have experienced combat, physical or sexual assault, terrorist attack, or serious accidents or disaster.26

Most veterans that are diagnosed with PTSD have been in combat. Recent diagnoses include those who were deployed overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan.26 In addition, PTSD has also been linked to veterans that have been sexually assaulted or harassed during their military service or experience.26

Symptoms of PTSD may include:28

  • Feeling wound up or jumpy.
  • Easily angered and feeling irritated.
  • Experiencing flashbacks of the traumatic event.
  • Feeling numb to things that use to bring joy.
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.

Substance abuse and addiction is commonly connected to co-occurring disorders like PTSD, depression, and anxiety in veterans.29 Prescription drugs given to treat PTSD, such as opioids, are highly addictive.

Research has found that service members and veterans that have heavy drinking tendencies are more likely to have PTSD, depression, and suicidal intentions than veterans who drink moderately.30 War veterans with a PTSD diagnosis who also drink alcohol tend to be diagnosed with binge drinking.27

From a study of Operations Enduring Freedom/Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn, 63% of veterans were diagnosed with PTSD and AUD or SUD.31 In addition, veterans diagnosed with PTSD and AUD,  over 36% were also diagnosed with major depression, 43.5% were diagnosis with an anxiety disorder, 39.% had suicidal intentions, and 46% attempted suicide.31

Substance Abuse can Lead to Suicide

The combination of trauma, mental health disorders, and substance abuse exacts a very real toll on veterans.32 In 2017, 6,139 veterans committed suicide—about 23 veterans a day. This was an increase of 129 veterans from 2016 to 2017.32

Supporting Veterans with Addiction and Co-Occurring Diagnosis

Mental health issues and addiction can affect your family and the people around you. With a diagnosis of PTSD and addiction, seeking treatment and medical care is the first step.

Family members and loved ones need to be encouraging and possibly willing to change some of their habits and behaviors that may present a risk for the veteran with addiction and a co-occurring diagnosis.33 For family members and loved ones, it is important to learn more about addiction and co-occurring issues to provide support to the veteran in their lives.33

Additional Support

Chronic Pain and Physical Traumas

Due to the extreme physical demands that most service members have endured, chronic pain and physical pain are common issues for veterans.34 Most treatment options for acute and chronic pain are prescription medications combined with physical therapy such as yoga or chiropractic care.31

Those who experience chronic pain and physical traumas are often prescribed opioids, which are highly addictive drugs. Patients on a prolonged prescription of opioids can develop opioid dependence.35 In 2017, 47,600 deaths in the U.S. were linked to overdose of opioid prescriptions.36 The VA continues to address the opioid epidemic in the United States through education and awareness of the harm opioids can have on active-duty and veteran patients.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain can be the root cause of disabilities, with a decrease in work productivity.31 Persistent chronic pain can contribute to mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, loss of quality sleep, decreased quality of life, and substance abuse.31

Acute and chronic pain can be the result of injuries to the spinal cord or back, burns, traumatic brain injuries, and cancer.31

Over 65% of veterans have a chronic pain diagnosis, while 9.1% suffer from severe pain.37 As many as 40% of veterans over the age of 65 are diagnosed with chronic back pain.38 Spinal injuries are a common cause for chronic pain and nerve pain, which can be very difficult to treat.38

Researchers are still studying the treatment options to best help those with chronic pain.38 The VA is currently learning more about chronic pain, specifically nerve pain, at the Center for Restoration of Nervous Systems Function at Yale School of Medicine.38

Sexual Assault Trauma

Military sexual trauma is a term used to describe a service member, regardless of gender, who had experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment while serving in the military.39 About 1 in 5 female veterans have been diagnosed with military sexual trauma by the VA.40 Veterans who have experienced sexual trauma may display the following symptoms:39

  • Abuse of substances or alcohol.
  • Difficulty feeling safe.
  • Depressed or numb.
  • Experiencing disturbing memories or nightmares.
  • Feeling isolated from others.
  • Sleeping problems.

In addition to military sexual trauma diagnosis, active-duty and veteran members of the military can be diagnosed with PTSD after a sexual assault.41 A preliminary study indicated that female veterans with PTSD were likely to have been sexually abused during their time in service.41 The same study also indicated that these female veterans were more likely to abuse substances to help cope with their trauma and PTSD.41

Reducing Stigma of Substance Abuse

active duty service member talking to doctor about substance addiction

There are still stigmas about mental health and substance abuse in the military for both service members and veterans. Because of this, many do not seek treatment and go undiagnosed. In these cases, veterans with addiction and other untreated mental health disorders can negatively affect those around them and cause harm to themselves.

Veterans who are seeking treatment may decide not to go due to the social stigmas that surround mental health and addiction in service members and veterans.42 Many veterans worry about the negative perception other may have about them if they address their mental health issues and addiction.42

The U.S. Department of Defense is aware of the stigmas that may stop a service member or veteran from seeking treatment. In their efforts to combat these stigmas, the U.S. Department of Defense launched an anti-stigma campaign in 2009 called the Real Warriors. Real Battles. Real Strength. The campaign encourages active-duty service members and veterans to seek help and learn more about their “invisible wounds,” such as alcoholism, drugs abuse, and mental health issues.

Veteran Support Organizations

There are many government-funded, nonprofit, and community groups and organizations that focus on helping veterans live healthy lives after serving in the military.

The VA healthcare system provides information about veteran benefits and medical care. More information can be found on VA.gov. Veterans can log in to My Health and set up substance abuse screenings.

In addition to setting up screenings and healthcare appointments, veterans and their families can learn more about substance abuse, mental health conditions, and treatment options on the VA’s website. Veterans and their families can also contact the following for more information:

Additional Veteran Resources

  • Make the Connection: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ campaign to help veterans get connected to the resources and services that are available to them; finding treatment and living a healthy life.
  • Wounded Warrior Project (WWP): Nonprofit helping veterans connect with peer support groups and programs.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA): Providing information and resources for veterans and their families about mental health after deployment.

Helping Veterans with Addiction

Addiction can affect the lives of family members and loved ones. For friends and family members, there are things you can do to support someone in your life with an addiction.

By recognizing the signs of addiction, learning more about interventions, researching treatment options, and providing support and understanding, you can help those in your life recover.

Recognizing the Signs of Substance Abuse

For family members and close friends of veterans, there are numerous signs for someone suffering from PTSD or other mental health issues, substance abuse, or combination of the two.

Veterans experiencing substance abuse, specifically drugs, may experience:

  • Problems at work, such as poor performance, poor time management, and social dysfunction.
  • Lack of motivation or energy.
  • Neglecting relationships with friends and family.
  • Obsession or strong cravings for substance.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

When there are signs of substance abuse, family members should be encouraged to address the situation with a loved one.

Alcoholism and drug addiction effects many active service members and veterans. For families and close friends, providing support and learning more about addiction and treatment options can make the difference in a veteran’s recovery. The information in this guide and treatment options offered at AAC can help veterans with addiction and co-occurring issues recover and live a life of sobriety.

 

 

Source

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  2. Health Services Research & Development. (2019, April). Spotlight on Substance Use Disorders.
  3. Teeters, J. B., Lancaster, C. L., Brown, D. G., & Back, S. E. (2017). Substance use disorders in military veterans: prevalence and treatment challengesSubstance abuse and rehabilitation8, 69–77.
  4. Brady, K. T., Tuerk, P., Back, S. E., Saladin, M. E., Waldrop, A. E., & Myrick, H. (2009). Combat posttraumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders, and traumatic brain injuryJournal of addiction medicine3(4), 179–188.
  5. National Veterans Foundation. (2016, March 30). What Statistics Show About Veterans Substance Abuse and Why Proper Treatment is Important.
  6. (2019). Veterans And Substance Addiction: Drug And Alcohol Abuse In Military.
  7. Larson, M. J., Wooten, N. R., Adams, R. S., & Merrick, E. L. (2012). Military Combat Deployments and Substance Use: Review and Future DirectionsJournal of social work practice in the addictions,12(1), 6–27.
  8. Teeters, J.B., Lancaster, C.L., Brown, D.G., & Back, S.E. (2017). Substance use disorders in military veterans: prevalence and treatment challengesSubstance Abuse and Rehabilitation.8, 69-77.
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, October). Substance Use and Military Life.
  10. OBrien, C., Oster, M., & Morden, E. (2013). Substance Use Disorders in the U.S. Armed Forces. National Academies Press.
  11. Seal, K.H., Cohen, G., Waldrop, A., Cohen. B. E., Maguen, S., Ren, L. (2011). Substance use disorders in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in VA healthcare, 2001-2010: Implications for screening, diagnosis and treatment. Drug Alcohol Depend, 115 (1-3): 93-101.
  12. Wilk, J. E., Bleise, P. D., Kim, P. Y., Thomas, J. L., McGurk, D., & Hoge, C. W. (2010). Relationship of combat experiences to alcohol misuse among U.S. soldiers returning from the Iraq warDrug and Alcohol Dependence108(1-2), 115–121.
  13. gov: Veterans Affairs. (2018, August 23). Use of Benzodiazepines for PTSD in Veterans Affairs.
  14. Wilk, J. E., Bleise, P. D., Kim, P. Y., Thomas, J. L., McGurk, D., & Hoge, C. W. (2010). Relationship of combat experiences to alcohol misuse among U.S. soldiers returning from the Iraq warDrug and Alcohol Dependence108(1-2), 115–121.
  15. gov: Veterans Affairs. (2011, December 22). PTSD: National Center for PTSD
  16. Coley, H. (Apr. 10, 2012) Memorandum for commanders, medcom regional medical commands: Policy guidance on the assessment and treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Department of the Army Headquarters, U.S. Army Medical Command. Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
  17. Wagner TH, Harris KM, Federman B, Dai L, Luna Y, Humphreys K. (2007). Prevalence of substance use disorders among veterans and comparable nonveterans from the National Survey on Drug Use and HealthPsychological Services, 4(3), 149–157.
  18. Office of Research & Development. (2018). VA Research on Mental Health.
  19. National Institute of Mental Health. (2019 February). Mental Illness.
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  22. Ommaya, A. K., Salazar, A., Dannenberg, A. L., Ommaya, A. K., Chervinsky, A. B., & Schwab, K. (1996, December). Outcome after traumatic brain injury in the U.S. military medical systemThe Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care., 31(6), 972–975.
  23. Crocker, L. D., Keller, A. V., Jurick, S. M., Bomyea, J., Hays, C. C., Twamley, E. W., & Jak, A. J. (2019). Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Burden Moderates the Relationship Between Cognitive Functioning and Suicidality in Iraq/Afghanistan-Era VeteransJournal of the International Neuropsychological Society: JINS25(1), 79–89.
  24. Tanielian, T.L., Tanielian, T., Jaycox L. (2008). Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences and Services to Assist Recovery. Santa Monica, California: Rand Corporation.
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Last Updated on December 31, 2019
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About the editor
Sarah Hardey
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A Senior Web Content Editor for the American Addiction Centers. Sarah has worked with healthcare facilities across the country to create digital content for readers of all types.

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