Addiction can affect anyone; however, substance use disorders (SUDs) are an extremely prevalent problem among U.S. military veterans. Various factors contribute to veterans’ susceptibility to SUDs, such as trauma, physical pain, and mental health conditions. Understanding why veterans are particularly susceptible and the types of SUDs most prevalent among them is an important first step to helping those in need.
What Causes Addiction in Veterans?
There are a number of reasons a veteran may struggle with addiction, including:
Trauma and PTSD
Due to the nature of their work, veterans are likely to experience traumatic events during the course of their deployment. Traumatic events refer to a wide variety of experiences that are perceived as life-threatening. Some of the most common traumatic events for military personnel include witnessing the death of another service member, experiencing survivor’s guilt, and sustaining severe physical injuries. Due to this, many veterans are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a symptom of trauma in which the victim has lasting mental and sometimes physical effects from the trauma they experienced. Often, people diagnosed with PTSD experience flashbacks and develop triggers that remind them of the trauma, causing emotional distress.
Some veterans will turn to substances — such as alcohol — to cope with their trauma and the lingering effects of PTSD because of these factors. Many veterans use alcohol to self-medicate and numb themselves to these painful experiences. Additionally, veterans are no longer subject to the extensive drug tests frequently conducted by the military, meaning they have one less deterrent from partaking in substance use. Transitioning back to civilian life can be extremely challenging, and substances may seem like a convenient way of coping with these stressors for many people.
Physical trauma, such as a lost limb or hearing loss, is also much more prevalent among veterans than the general population. Many veterans are prescribed opioids by their doctors in order to manage this pain, resulting in a higher rate of prescription drug misuse in veterans than in the general population. Since opioids are so potent, dependency may form even if taken as directed. Prescription drug misuse could lead to severe dependency, overdose, or even death.
Untreated Mental Health Conditions
Like any other demographic, SUDs in veterans are most often seen co-occurring with another mental health condition. PTSD is most commonly seen alongside SUDs among veterans; however, depression and anxiety are also prevalent. Individuals who experience co-occurring mental health conditions also have higher rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts.
Typically, recovery for those with co-occurring mental health conditions will utilize a holistic treatment method in order to target all aspects of a person’s well-being. Physical exercise, meditation, and different forms of therapy can help individuals address their unique struggles with their mental health, including their SUD.
While anyone can develop SUD, some people are predisposed to addiction because of their genetics. Research indicates that veterans with a family history of addiction are more likely to develop SUD than veterans who don’t. Family history is only one aspect of why someone may develop SUD. However, it is an important factor to consider. People with family histories of addiction ought to exercise extreme caution when partaking in substance use or taking prescription medication.
Treatment Options for Veterans
Returning to civilian life after spending time in service can be extremely difficult for many veterans. However, help is available. At West Coast Recovery Centers, we believe in the specific and individual needs of each client. We take a trauma-informed approach to treatment to help tackle trauma-related disorders such as PTSD. Trauma-informed care ensures that clients won’t be subjected to re-traumatization during their treatment and are able to explore these feelings in a safe and controlled environment.
Treatment methods may vary depending on an individual’s specific needs. Our professionals will work with veterans to create a treatment plan that they feel comfortable and confident in. Some of the most common treatment options for trauma include:
- Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Experiential therapy
- Exposure therapy
- Prescription medication
- Individual or group therapy
- Peer support groups
In addition to recovery centers like West Coast Recovery Centers, veterans may also choose to utilize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Their healthcare program includes resources specifically tailored to veterans for SUD and PTSD treatment. One of the most important steps in the recovery process is using all available resources and figuring out what works best for a person’s needs.
Regardless of the treatment method that an individual decides is best suited for her needs, it can help to know that no one is truly alone in the journey of treatment and recovery. Many veterans can feel lost and disoriented in the struggles they experience when returning to the civilian realm. Help is available and recovery is possible. Veterans do not have to go about this journey alone.
Veterans are statistically more likely to develop a substance use disorder than civilians due to a variety of factors. These include experiencing traumatic events, exhibiting co-occurring mental health conditions, having a family history of addiction, and struggles adjusting back to civilian life. These stressors can lead to veterans turning to substances in order to cope with their day-to-day lives. However, you are not alone in this journey. At West Coast Recovery Centers, we firmly believe in an individual-based approach to treatment that’s tailored to your specific needs. We utilize trauma-informed care so that you can feel safe and cared for during your recovery. To learn more about the services we provide, call our professionals today at (760) 492-6509.