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Rehab for Veterans

The physical and mental stress of serving in the armed forces expose veterans to a high risk of substance use disorder, or SUD.

The physical and mental stresses of serving in the armed forces may contribute to an increased incidence of substance use disorders (SUDs) amongst veterans (relative to the general population). Physical injuries, combat exposure, psychological trauma, and prolonged separation from loved ones take a severe toll on the body and mind.1,2 The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides several therapeutic options for substance use issues for veterans of the Navy, Army, Marines, and Air Force.3 Whether you need help moderating your drinking or you have a life-threatening addiction to illicit drugs, support is available to help you get healthy and get back on track with your life.3

If you’re a veteran seeking recovery, or you’re close to a vet who needs treatment, mental health professionals, and addiction treatment specialists can provide:3,4

  • Medications to more comfortably manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings (for certain types of substance dependence).
  • Medications and individual therapy to address anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Coping skills to help you deal with common life stressors.
  • Training in how to handle relapse triggers.
  • Counseling for couples and families to help repair damaged relationships.
  • Connections to self-help support programs in your community, like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

Substance Use and Military Veterans

The psychological and physical repercussions of military service can be long lasting, and many vets need intensive drug and alcohol rehabilitation after they’ve been discharged. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that alcohol use is higher among members of the military than among civilians.In 2008, 20% of military personnel reported binge drinking every week in the past month, while the rate for those who had high combat exposure was even higher at 27%.Prescription drug abuse has also increased among members of the Armed Forces and is higher among military personnel than among civilians.2,5

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According to recent studies, among military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan:6,7

  • Over 11% were diagnosed with SUDs.
  • Around 30% report symptoms of PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression, mental illness, or other cognitive disability.
  • Of those diagnosed with SUDs, 55-75% were also diagnosed with PTSD or depression.

The Reasons for Drug and Alcohol Use in Veterans

The VA isn’t just concerned with helping military personnel fight addiction. VA treatment also addresses the potential contributing factors for alcohol and drug abuse, such as:4

  • PTSD.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Relationship problems.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Combat stress.

Rehab Resources for Military Veterans

Veterans who served in the United States Army may be eligible for benefits from the VA to cover the costs of alcohol or drug rehabilitation. Veterans seeking treatment for substance misuse can start the process by talking with their primary VA healthcare provider, contacting their nearest veteran center, or calling the VA’s general information hotline. The VA’s rehab services range from:3,4

  • Initial screening for veterans to gauge their need for drug or alcohol rehabilitation.
  • Residential care for those who require intensive medical treatment and structured supervision during rehab.
  • Outpatient counseling for veterans who do not need intensive inpatient rehab.
  • Continuing care to help veterans adjust to life in the civilian world, including access to community self-help groups.

The Drug Policy Alliance Report urged government agencies to initiate overdose prevention programs for veterans and extend access to medication therapy for drug addiction.Methadone and buprenorphine are two of the most widely prescribed medications for reducing the cravings and withdrawal symptoms that can interfere with recovery from opioid addiction.7

Military veterans can get help from addiction treatment centers sponsored by the VA.

Military veterans can get help from addiction treatment centers sponsored by the VA. VA and vet center facilities are located throughout the country and can be searched by program type and zip code on the VA’s online SUD Program Locator. As an alternative, many non-profit civilian drug rehabilitation centers as well as private rehabilitation facilities offer support that targets the unique needs of the military. Private drug and alcohol rehab treatment centers are also available to help veterans cope with PTSD, depression, and anger as they recover from substance use issues.

The VA’s Office of Patient Care Services reports that in 2009, the VA’s SUD programs were widely used by veterans with both drug- and alcohol-related health complications:8

  • SUD programs treated nearly 152,000 veterans
  • 128,000 of the treated veterans had a diagnosis of SUD
  • 28.2% of these veterans were diagnosed with alcohol problems only
  • 19.3% of admissions had drug problems only
  • 52.4% had problems with both drug and alcohol problems

The VA’s SUD specialty care programs utilize 12-step facilitation counseling to encourage 12-step program participation for veterans continuing their recover in the community after discharge. Twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous outline a set of guiding principles for those working the steps to better maintain sobriety; 12-step meetings provide additional community and support to vets in recovery. Meetings are anonymous, free, and widely available throughout the world.

Expanding Recovery Resources for Veterans

As awareness concerning the various unique psychological and psychosocial needs of military veterans grows, the VA is there to meet these needs. From anonymous self-screening tools to prevention education and crisis hotlines, the VA offers a number of free addiction treatment services. Medically managed detoxification, residential care, and outpatient treatment programs are available to veterans with substance use problems.4

But NIDA points out that addiction treatment services should be even more accessible to service members. According to the NIDA, early intervention should involve screening service members for substance use disorders when they return from deployment.2 Helping veterans find the financial resources, clinical care, and psychosocial support they need for recovery should be a top national priority.

Sources

  1. 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 Injury. J Addict Med, 3(4), 179-188.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). DrugFacts: Substance Abuse in the Military.
  3. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Substance Use Treatment for Veterans.
  4. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Mental Health: Treatment Programs for Substance Use Problems.
  5. Committee on Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Management of Substance Use Disorders in the U.S. Armed Forces. (2013). Substance Use Disorders in the U.S. Armed Forces, Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  6. 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 and Alcohol Dependence, 116: 93-101.,
  7. Drug Policy Alliance. (2012). Healing a Broken System: Veterans and the War on Drugs.
  8. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2010). Fact Sheet: VA Services for Patients with Substance Use Disorders (SUD).

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