Veterans are more likely than civilians to abuse and/or become addicted to substances. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that, “More than one in ten veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, slightly higher than the general population.” The article goes on to say that veterans are “also greatly impacted by several critical issues related to substance use, such as pain, suicide risk, trauma, and homelessness.”
A study published in 2017 by the US National Library of Medicine analyzed both the rate of substance use disorders, (SUDs), among veterans and the challenges veterans face seeking treatment. The first two sentences of the study’s summary section hit home: “In summary, veterans demonstrate high rates of SUDs. There is a clear need for the development of novel, more effective, evidence-based interventions to address the health care needs of our veterans and their family members struggling with SUDs.”
It’s not just the rate of addiction that’s higher among veterans than civilians. To absolutely no surprise, the rates of PTSD and depression are also higher. These two disorders are commonly associated with substance abuse, especially as a form of self-medication. Veterans have (and deserve) great pride and have been through countless stressful situations. Sometimes these situations have effects that last into the real world. Therefore, it is crucial for veteran addicts seeking treatment to choose the correct program – one that is equipped to deal with multiple concurrent disorders if need be.
Veterans and Addiction: The Facts
It’s incredibly unfortunate that the brave men and women who defended our country suffer in greater numbers than nonveterans. To paint a clearer picture of the issue at hand, here are some factoids about veterans, addiction, mental illness, and the misfortune therein.
- 4% of veterans in treatment abuse alcohol, opposed to 37.4% for nonveterans.
- 53% of veterans who are recently deployed engaged in binge drinking.
- 22% of veterans suffer from either PTSD or major depression.
- 34% of veterans suffer from some form of mental illness.
- Only 1 out of every 3 veterans who abuse substances end up seeking help.
- 1 in 10 veterans has a substance abuse disorder, opposed to 1 in 13 civilians.
- Veterans with PTSD are 3x more likely to be prescribed opioid painkillers.
- 30% of military suicides are preceded by alcohol and/or drug abuse.
- The suicide rate for veterans is 1.5x higher than it is for nonveterans.
- Veterans make up about 10% of all US citizens. One in five suicides is a veteran.
- Almost 30% of veterans with PTSD also have a substance abuse disorder.
- Nearly three of every four veterans report symptoms that could lead to insomnia.
- One in four veterans seeking treatment are homeless.
If you find yourself personally affected and related to any of what you’ve just learned, or if there’s someone you love who comes to mind, now is the time to reach out for help. What follows from here is a comprehensive guide for veterans seeking treatment for a substance abuse disorder. Yet, bear in mind that treatment for mental health issues is oftentimes offered in the same facilities as substance abuse treatment.
How will Treatment Help?
United States veterans, and especially war veterans, have undergone traumatic events that nonveterans will never be submitted to. Serving our country is one of the greatest tests any human can withstand, and it’s very common for there to be effects on the body and brain. As the above studies and statistics have shown, veterans are much more at risk for substance abuse and/or mental health conditions that lead to substance use than civilians are.
The treatment provides safety and comfort in attempting to overcome the battles of addiction or mental illness. Consider it a battle for your health that you and every single staff member will be teamed up to fight against. You’ll receive therapy, both physical and mental, along with specialized care for your particular addiction or issue.
There is a multitude of options when it comes to what type of services a veteran would like to receive. It’s important to find the right one. We’re about to list and briefly explain the five most common types of substance abuse treatment, as well as add several less-common options. Please keep the following in mind when it comes to detoxification, though, as a form of treatment.
Simply detoxing can be cost-effective but is generally only recommended as an actual form of treatment for those who are first-time addicts and don’t show signs of potential repeated abuse. An example might be someone with no history of substance abuse who was given a legal prescription for opioid-based pain medication, and through a series of unfortunate events began using heroin. A detox could provide this person with sobriety, and given the lack of abusive tendencies, this person could very likely carry on living a sober life. Very few addicts fall into this category. Here are the five most common types of treatment programs enrolled in.
Types of Treatment
Long-term Inpatient Treatment
Designed for the more severe of addictions, long-term inpatient (AKA residential) treatment consists of round-the-clock care in a home-like facility, generally shared with a group of others. Stays can be as brief as three months or so, or as long as a full year, sometimes longer. There is a fully trained staff available for any and all needs, and plenty of activities designed to build the overall health of patients. When enrolled in long-term inpatient programs, you live at the facility for the entirety of your program, permitted only to leave the premises with the appropriate supervision.
Short-term Inpatient Treatment
Picture all of the care and amenities of long-term inpatient care, except more intensive, probably in a hospital-like setting, and only lasting 3-6 weeks, generally speaking. Aftercare is recommended at the conclusion of all types of treatment, but most adamantly with short-term inpatient programs. This greatly reduces the risk of relapse after leaving the residential setting.
If you don’t have the wherewithal to live in a treatment facility for an extended period of time, outpatient treatment might be your best option. As opposed to living at the facility, you would attend for a designated amount of time on a regular schedule. There are levels of intensity, ranging from educational meetings or one-on-one sessions to rigorous treatment methods. Usually, outpatient treatment programs can be suited to your individual characteristics and requirements. Also, therapy of some form is often a major component.
In the most severe of addiction cases, inpatient hospitalization is offered, wherein a patient is hospitalized for however long it may take to safely detoxify and recover from the addiction’s withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be fatal. The main idea is actually to transition from hospitalization to a more normalized form of treatment, such as short-term inpatient care and/or outpatient care.
Also known as ‘partial hospitalization’ or ‘intensive outpatient treatment’, this type of program combines the benefits of a hospital-like environment and care level with the benefits of outpatient care, meaning one does not have to take up residence at the facility. Sessions are multiple times a week, sometimes 8 hours long.
There are self-help groups, independent counselors and/or therapists, evening and weekend programs only, V.A. programs, and plenty of programs for veterans with special needs or concerns. Also, plenty of independently-operated veteran support groups are out there. Also always educate yourself, because the more you know about substance abuse and veterans, the easier it becomes to want to avoid becoming another victim.
Additional Resources for Veterans
We would be amiss if we didn’t include a section of veteran resources that extend beyond the scope of addiction recovery. Bear in mind that you can still utilize any of the following resources for substance abuse issues. However, treatment in some form listed above is strongly recommended if the situation calls for it.
- Known as the V.A., the US Department of Veteran Affairs is by far the largest veteran resource in the country. Find your local V.A. sponsored medical center by clicking here.
- The V.A. also offers an interactive state map that helps you find your local substance abuse disorder program. It can be found here.
- Help specifically for female veterans can be found here or by calling 1-888.292.9652. You may also text the same number.
- The Veterans Crisis Line is available for any veteran or family member of a veteran experiencing a crisis and can be reached by calling 1-888.292.9652 or by texting ‘HELP’ to 838255.
It’s rather clear that veterans can use all the help they can get when it comes to fighting an addiction or a mental disorder, or both at once. Finding the right type of treatment and then the right facility is an important process. Hopefully we’ve made your decision easier! Be sure to enroll in a program that meets your specific needs. We hope this article has been of assistance. Good luck on your journey, whether it be enrolling yourself or presenting options to an addicted loved one.