For many veterans, job-related stress and trauma can impact the mind and body, even after retiring. Retired military personnel often experience co-occurring disorders alongside addiction. Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are considered common co-occurring disorders for veterans, especially those who have experienced combat.
Despite several treatment options and resources made available by Veterans Affairs (VA), the number of veterans with substance use disorders continues to rise.
Veterans at Risk
Substance use disorders (SUDs) significantly affect active duty service members and veterans. While addiction to illicit drugs such as marijuana and cocaine exists among those who have served, the most prevalent types of vices among male and female veterans include drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes.
According to SAMHSA’s 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 3.9 million veterans had a mental or substance use disorder, and 1.3 million veterans (6.2%) aged 18 or older had a SUD. Addition statistics include:
- Among veterans with a SUD, 1 in 4 struggle with illicit drugs.
- 4 in 5 veterans have issues with alcohol.
- 1 in 13 veterans struggle with both illicit drugs and alcohol.
Mental Health Statistics & Co-Occurring Disorders
Veterans have a greater risk of developing a SUD when substance use co-occurs with mental disorders related to pain, trauma, suicidal ideation, and living conditions. Substance use can become especially impactful for persons with a co-occurring disorder, as people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope.
In 2019, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that 3.1 million veterans (15.3%) aged 18 or older were diagnosed with a mental illness within the past year. Among those veterans with a mental disorder, 1 in 4 (26.6% or 833K) had a serious mental illness.
While the rate of SMI-afflicted veterans aged 18 to 15 decreased, serious mental illness increased among veterans aged 26 to 49. However, between 2009 and 2019, suicidal ideation and behavior remained steady for veterans aged 18 to 49. SUD also substantially increased suicidal thoughts for veterans 18 and older. Further, serious cases of debilitating depression increased for veterans aged 26 and older, primarily in women.
Veterans with SUDs generally meet the standards for co-occurring mental disorders such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD can be the result of many factors for a given person. For veterans, exposure to combat, deployment stressors, and reintegration into everyday life are common experiences that can present trauma. Veterans who have experienced trauma such as injury or hospitalization after combat are more likely to suffer from a substance abuse disorder.
Those with SUDs are 3 to 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with a mental disorder such as PTSD or depression. Deployment conditions are also linked with SUDs. Among other military-related issues, veterans may have experienced the following upon returning home:
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Sleep disturbances
- Reintegration pressure
- Domestic violence
Veterans who have PTSD may use drugs and alcohol to help manage trauma, sleep, or chronic pain. However, substance use will aggravate related symptoms. Symptoms of PTSD can reveal themselves in various ways:
- Intrusive thoughts/memories
- Memory issues
- Problem concentrating
- Negative self-image
- Negative reactivity
- Mood swings
- Emotional numbness
PTSD symptoms and intensity vary by person and experience. The military lifestyle can offer plenty of stressful experiences for active-duty members that can stay with them even after retirement. If left untreated, trauma’s physical, mental, and emotional toll will become more pervasive with time.
Veteran’s Affairs (VA) and Next Steps
Zero-tolerance policies, confidentiality fears, and stigma continue to slow progress toward identifying and treating substance abuse among military service members. However, resources and treatment options for veterans may be available at the VA or your nearest rehabilitation facility.
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) provides a multitude of services for veterans, including:
- Counseling and therapy
- Connections to sober social groups
- Treatment for co-occurring disorders
The VA also offers the Veterans Alcohol and Drug Dependence Rehabilitation Program, which offers different forms of therapies and treatment plans (detox, rehab, psychiatric) to eligible veterans.
Veteran-focused therapy aims to take the experiences garnered during your time in the military and use them as stepping stones toward recovery. Screening and evidence-based treatment plans can help assess trauma exposure and identify triggers to create effective change.
Aside from medication, psychotherapeutic SUD management can involve short-term, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and trauma-focused CBT.
Reducing cravings and substance use, emotional and behavioral regulation, and processing trauma are all common goals of veteran-focused treatment. With the right facility and recovery plan, veterans can move on from negative job-related experiences and enjoy retirement without the restrictions of addiction and SUDs.
The structured culture of the military offers protective policies and risk factors concerning substance use that influences service members and any preexisting conditions. Military personnel may experience job-related situations that can affect their well-being during their duty and after retirement. Veterans may self-medicate with drugs and alcohol as a coping method, leading to addiction made worse by a co-occurring disorder. At Vanity Wellness Center, we understand that returning to the civilian world can be challenging. We offer Veteran-focused therapy to help you transition back into everyday life and guide you towards a happy, substance-free state. It takes bravery to serve in the military, and the recovery path is no different. Don’t think of retirement as the end of something, but the beginning of the next stage in life. We thank you for your service. Now let us extend the favor. Learn more about our veteran-focused therapy by calling (866) 587-1737.