What Does Recovery Treatment Look Like for Veterans?

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The rate of substance use disorder (SUD) among veterans is high. Veterans are more likely to suffer from trauma, which can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is also highly comorbid with SUD. Veterans might use substances to self-medicate and numb symptoms related to PTSD or other mental health disorders.

Veterans and Substance Use

Deployment is associated with smoking, unhealthy drinking, and drug use. However, the military's zero-tolerance policy and mandatory drug tests curb some of the substance use problems. Once military members are discharged, their risk of developing SUD goes up because those strict rules are no longer there to catch them.

More than one in ten veterans are been diagnosed with SUD. This is higher than the general population. The use of illicit drugs particularly goes up once a person is discharged. Marijuana use accounts for most of the illicit drug use among veterans, with about 3.5% reporting some use. Pain medication and opioid use are also common among veterans. Many veterans experience severe pain and are prescribed opioids to manage it. However, when misused, opioid prescriptions can be highly addictive.

What Is Trauma?

Having a stress response to traumatic events that are shocking, scary, or dangerous is natural. When a person is exposed to traumatic events, they go into a “fight-or-flight” response, which is intended to help people avoid danger. Trauma can be caused by:

  • Physical assault
  • Abuse or violence
  • Dangerous accidents
  • Natural disasters
  • Other serious events

Trauma doesn't necessarily come from first-hand exposure. It can be caused by witnessing or hearing about a close friend or loved one going through a trauma. If trauma symptoms don't go away within a month of the traumatic event, the person might meet the criteria for PTSD.

PTSD Diagnosis

To be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms must interfere with the person's ability to work, maintain relationships, or otherwise function in their day-to-day lives. Some PTSD symptoms won't appear until months or even years after the traumatic incident.

Veterans and PTSD

About two in every ten veterans who have PTSD also have SUD. War veterans tend to binge drink to mitigate PTSD symptoms. However, it's important to understand that drugs and alcohol can worsen PTSD symptoms. 

PTSD symptoms include:

  • One instance of re-experiencing symptoms: Flashbacks, recurring memories or dreams related to the event, distressing thoughts, or physical signs of stress
  • One instance of avoidance symptoms: Staying away from things that are reminders of the traumatic events, and avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
  • Two instances of arousal and reactivity symptoms: Being easily startled, on edge, having difficulties concentrating, difficulty falling asleep, feeling irritable, having angry or aggressive outbursts, or engaging in risky behaviors
  • Two instances of cognitive and mood symptoms: Trouble with remembering key features of the traumatic event, negative thoughts about the world or oneself, distorted thoughts about the event such as feelings of blame, ongoing negative emotions, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, feelings of isolation, or difficulties feeling positive emotions

PTSD Treatment

Treatment for PTSD includes different types of psychotherapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). CBT is one of the most common forms of psychotherapies; it involves a combination of cognitive and behavioral therapies used to change behaviors and thought patterns. 

EMDR is a therapy that specifically targets reprocessing trauma. While it is primarily used for PTSD treatment, it can also be used to treat depressive and anxiety symptoms. Most EMDR treatments involve one to three months of weekly sessions lasting 50 to 90 minutes. During an EMDR session, a client follows a back-and-forth movement, such as the therapist's finger, while recalling the traumatic memory. This allows the client to reprocess the traumatic memory with a healthier perspective.

Trauma-Informed Care

Many substance use treatment facilities offer trauma-informed care, which means that the client's trauma is the focus of the care. Through trauma-informed care, therapists can address their client's substance use and mental health symptoms. This type of care is about creating a safe space for clients to address mental health symptoms without fear of setting off their trauma triggers. This can be achieved by creating collaborative treatment plans that take the client's trauma responses into consideration.

Health Care for Veterans

TRICARE provides health care benefits for active members of the military and veterans for minimal or no cost. Available plans provide various coverage options. Some plans cover family members of current or retired military members. You can go to TRICARE's website to see what medical professionals are available in their network.

The Best Treatment Options for Veterans

As a veteran, you want to attend a recovery facility that is compassionate, empathetic, and attentive to your needs. You want a treatment program that is non-judgemental and understanding. A combination of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and psychotherapy could help you find your way to the path of recovery.

Veterans are at a higher risk for developing PTSD and SUD symptoms. Trauma-informed care can help veterans receive the help they need without risking traumatic triggers. Pathways Recovery Center has experience providing care to veterans and working with TRICARE veterans insurance. Our mental health professionals will work closely with you to create a treatment plan that is specific to your substance use and PTSD needs. At Pathways Recovery Center, we can give you the right tools to help you recover one step at a time. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, call us at (888) 771-0966 to learn how we can help your specific situation. 

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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