How Do I Know if a Veteran's Program Is Going to Meet My Needs?

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Veterans need treatment programs that will tend to their needs. They need treatment programs that understand the hardships of deployment. Treatment programs for veterans should give them the resources they need to build a better life. Some recovery facilities will be more equipped to handle veterans' needs than others. For instance, a veteran is inclined to be more interested in programs that have experience treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), accept TRICARE insurance, and are a safe space for them to begin the healing process.

Veterans and Substance Abuse

Even though the military has a zero-tolerance policy, deployment is often associated with unhealthy alcohol consumption and taking up smoking habits. This zero-tolerance policy may be effective at deterring people in the military from using illicit drugs, but it does little to protect inactive veterans. Instead, it stigmatizes substance use disorders (SUDs), making veterans afraid to seek help. 

However, veterans are at a higher risk of developing SUD than the general population. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about one in ten veterans have been diagnosed with SUD. 

Opioid Use Disorder

Injuries during active duty are often treated with opioid pain medication, which can be addictive. Without the monitoring of the military's zero-tolerance policy, it is easy for veterans to misuse opioid pain relievers to manage chronic pain. Many veterans become addicted to opioid pain relievers, whether the pain relievers were initially prescribed or not. Misuse of prescription medications includes:

  • Taking someone else's medications
  • Taking a larger dose of medication than prescribed
  • Consuming medication differently than how you were instructed (i.e., crushing and snorting tablets)
  • Using medication to get high

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the most common among active-duty members. The 2015 Health Related Behaviors Survey (HRBS) report suggests that 30% of active-duty members have binge drinking habits compared to 24.7% of the general population. 

Increased combat exposure increases the likeliness of problematic drinking. Exposure to combat and post-deployment civilian challenges puts veterans at a higher risk for dual diagnosis. In combination with SUDs, many veterans are likely to have PTSD, depression, and anxiety symptoms.

Illicit Drug Use

Among active-duty members, illicit drug use is lower than in the general population. Unlike binge drinking, illicit drug use has decreased in recent years among active-duty members. This could be due to the serious consequences of a positive test result in the military. 

However, once military members become inactive, illicit drug use increases. Among veterans, usage of cannabis increased by 50% between 2002 and 2009. Heroin and cocaine are the other two most prominent substances abused by veterans. About 10.7% of veterans in treatment programs have self-reported heroin use, and six percent reported cocaine use.

Treatment for Veterans

Treatment approaches created with veterans in mind include psychotherapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (MI), and trauma-informed care. These approaches to treatment help veterans identify, process, and understand their trauma. In doing so, they also learn how to manage their substance abuse and mental health symptoms.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Veterans need CBT to develop healthy tools for coping with substance abuse symptoms. CBT is a combination of cognitive and behavioral therapy practices. It focuses on people's thoughts influencing their behaviors and vice versa. CBT can help veterans understand the root cause of their SUD and give them the skills to manage their emotions, change their thoughts, and develop healthier behaviors.

Motivational Interviewing

Veterans need to find their inner motivation to manage their substance abuse symptoms. MI uses communication styles such as reflective listening, shared decision-making, and elicit change talk. The goal of MI is to help people strengthen their motivation by identifying why they resist change. Once they are willing to change, it will be easier to introduce the veteran to healthier perspectives and coping techniques.

Trauma-Informed Care

SUDs often stem from an inability to cope healthily with trauma. Many veterans may use substances to numb overwhelming feelings caused by traumas from being in active duty. Trauma-informed care looks into how trauma influences people's behaviors and emotions. Therapists treating veterans with trauma-informed care need to create a safe space to explore the person's trauma. This means understanding and being sensitive to a person's triggers.

PTSD vs. Trauma

Not all traumatic experiences lead to PTSD. The development of PTSD depends on how the person processes the traumatic experience. Veterans can develop PTSD symptoms immediately after traumatic experiences, but some veterans won't experience symptoms until months or years after the traumatic event. For veterans, traumatic experiences could include exposure to severe violence, death, and illness. Some PTSD symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares and trouble sleeping
  • Loneliness
  • Angry outbursts
  • Feelings of guilt or depression

It is natural to experience some of these symptoms after a traumatic event as part of a "fight-or-flight" response. However, to receive a PTSD diagnosis, symptoms should last more than three months after the traumatic experience and be severe enough to interfere with the person's everyday life.

TRICARE Insurance for Veterans

The U.S. military healthcare program helps current and former service members and their families afford healthcare services. TRICARE offers several packages for veterans and their families. Many packages for active duty service members don't have enrollment or out-of-pocket fees. 

TRICARE provides coverage in military hospitals, clinics, and civilian network providers. Their plans provide coverage for medications, mental health services, hospitalization, and more. Several types of TRICARE options vary in cost, coverage, and eligibility.

Veterans are at a higher risk for developing substance use disorders (SUDs) than the general public. Healthcare services like TRICARE can help veterans live healthy, sober lives. Pathways Recovery Center understands the impact of active service on a person's mental health. We work with TRICARE to give veterans the tools they need to manage their mental health and substance abuse symptoms. Our mental health professionals can provide CBT and MI to help you understand the effect of traumatic events on your behaviors and identify the root cause of your addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, call (888) 771-0966 to discover how Pathways Recovery Center can help you find joy in life again.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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