Comprehensive Addiction Treatment for Veterans

Author: Robert Rynfield | Clinical Reviewer: Emily Meyers, LPC | Editorial Policy Updated: June 14, 2024

Leading Substance Abuse Treatment for Veterans at Longbranch Recovery

Substance abuse is a pervasive issue among military veterans, with far-reaching consequences for their physical, mental, and social well-being. The unique challenges and experiences faced by veterans, such as combat exposure, traumatic events, and the difficult transition back to civilian life, can contribute to the development of substance use disorders. Addressing this issue is crucial, as untreated substance abuse can lead to a wide range of negative outcomes, including deteriorating health, strained relationships, financial instability, and even suicide.

Here at Longbranch Recovery & Wellness Center, we offer you science-based, specialized rehab programs for veterans of the military service, such as yourself. This way, you can regain control from substance dependency and live the life you want.

The Prevalence of Substance Use Disorders in Military Veterans

Studies have consistently shown that substance abuse is a significant problem among military veterans. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the rate of substance use disorders among veterans is higher than that of the general population. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that approximately 11% of veterans who seek first-time care within the VA health care system have a diagnosed substance use disorder. Alcohol abuse is particularly common, with a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finding that 65% of veterans who recently returned from deployment reported binge drinking.

Factors Contributing to Substance Abuse in Veterans

Traumatic Experiences and PTSD

One of the most significant factors contributing to substance abuse among veterans is exposure to traumatic experiences during their military service. Combat exposure, witnessing the loss of fellow service members, and experiencing life-threatening situations can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

man on army mission

PTSD is characterized by symptoms such as intrusive memories, avoidance of trauma-related triggers, negative changes in mood and thinking, and hyperarousal. Many veterans turn to substances as a way to cope with these distressing symptoms, leading to the development of substance use disorders.

Physical Health Issues and Chronic Pain

Military service can also result in physical health issues and chronic pain, which can contribute to substance abuse. Veterans may experience injuries during their service, such as traumatic brain injuries or musculoskeletal problems, which can lead to chronic pain. In an effort to manage this pain, veterans may be prescribed opioid painkillers, which have a high potential for abuse and addiction. The combination of chronic pain and the availability of prescription opioids can create a dangerous cycle of substance abuse.

Financial Struggles and Homelessness

Upon returning to civilian life, many veterans face financial challenges that can contribute to substance abuse. The transition from military to civilian employment can be difficult, and some veterans may struggle to find stable, well-paying jobs. Financial instability and the stress associated with it can lead to an increased risk of substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

Relationship Problems and Social Isolation

Military service can also take a toll on personal relationships, leading to social isolation and an increased risk of substance abuse. Long deployments, frequent relocations, and the challenges of reintegrating into civilian life can strain relationships with family members and friends. Veterans may experience feelings of disconnection or struggle to relate to others who have not shared their military experiences.

Most Common Substances Abused by Veterans

Veterans may abuse a wide range of substances, but some of the most commonly abused include:

  1. Alcohol: Binge drinking and heavy alcohol use are prevalent among veterans, often used as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, or PTSD symptoms.
  2. Prescription opioids: Veterans with chronic pain or injuries sustained during military service may be prescribed opioid painkillers, which have a high potential for abuse and addiction.
  3. Marijuana: Some veterans may use marijuana to self-medicate for symptoms of PTSD, chronic pain, or other mental health issues.

The Impact of Substance Abuse on Veterans’ Lives

Challenges of Transitioning to Civilian Life

The transition from military to civilian life can be a challenging and stressful period for many veterans. After years of structured living and a strong sense of purpose within the military, veterans may struggle to adapt to the more flexible and self-directed nature of civilian life. This transition can be further complicated by substance abuse, as veterans may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with the uncertainty and anxiety associated with this major life change.

The Relationship Between PTSD and Addiction in Veterans

How PTSD Increases the Risk of Substance Abuse

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a significant risk factor for substance abuse among veterans. PTSD is characterized by intrusive memories, avoidance of trauma-related triggers, negative changes in mood and thinking, and hyperarousal. These symptoms can be highly distressing and can interfere with a veteran’s ability to function in daily life. Many veterans turn to substances as a way to self-medicate and cope with the intense emotions and memories associated with PTSD. 

Substances may provide temporary relief from symptoms, but over time, this pattern of use can lead to the development of a substance use disorder. The co-occurrence of PTSD and substance abuse can create a vicious cycle, with each condition exacerbating the other and making recovery more challenging.

Traumatic Brain Injuries and Substance Abuse

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are another common service-related condition that can contribute to substance abuse among veterans. TBIs can result from exposure to explosive blasts, falls, or other head traumas during military service. These injuries can lead to a range of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes, including impaired decision-making, increased impulsivity, and difficulty regulating emotions. 

Chronic Pain Management and Opioid Addiction in Veterans

Chronic pain is a common problem among veterans, often resulting from injuries sustained during military service. In an effort to manage this pain, veterans may be prescribed opioid painkillers, which can be highly effective in the short term but also carry a significant risk of abuse and addiction. The use of prescription opioids for chronic pain management has contributed to the opioid epidemic among veterans, with many individuals developing opioid use disorders after being prescribed these medications.

Dual Diagnosis: Co-Occurring Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders

Integrated Treatment for Veterans with Co-Occurring Disorders

two men on army mission

Veterans with substance use disorders often struggle with co-occurring mental health conditions, such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety. This combination of issues, known as a dual diagnosis, requires a specialized approach to treatment that addresses both the substance abuse and the underlying mental health concerns simultaneously. Integrated treatment programs that combine substance abuse treatment with mental health services have been shown to be more effective than treating each condition separately.

These programs typically involve a multidisciplinary team of professionals, including addiction specialists, mental health counselors, and medical providers, who work together to create a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to the unique needs of each veteran. 

Common Mental Health Issues Among Veterans with Substance Abuse

Veterans with substance use disorders often struggle with a range of mental health issues, including:

  1. PTSD: Post-traumatic stress disorder is a common co-occurring condition among veterans with substance abuse, often resulting from exposure to traumatic events during military service.
  2. Depression: Veterans may experience depression as a result of the challenges of transitioning to civilian life, the loss of purpose and camaraderie associated with military service, or the impact of trauma and substance abuse on their mental well-being.
  3. Anxiety: Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, can co-occur with substance abuse among veterans, often stemming from the stress and uncertainty of military life and the challenges of readjusting to civilian society.
  4. Bipolar Disorder: Some veterans may struggle with bipolar disorder, characterized by alternating periods of depression and mania, which can contribute to substance abuse as a way to self-medicate or cope with the intense emotions associated with this condition.
dealing with drugs

Breaking the Stigma: Encouraging Veterans to Seek Help for Addiction

The Importance of Veteran-Specific Addiction Treatment Programs

Veteran-specific addiction treatment programs are essential for addressing the unique needs and experiences of veterans struggling with substance abuse. These programs are staffed by professionals who have a deep understanding of military culture, the challenges of transitioning to civilian life, and the impact of service-related traumas on mental health and substance use. 

By providing a safe, supportive, and culturally-sensitive environment, veteran-specific programs can help individuals feel more comfortable opening up about their experiences and engaging fully in the treatment process.

Accessing Substance Abuse Treatment as a Veteran

Veterans have several options for accessing substance abuse treatment, depending on their individual circumstances and eligibility for various programs. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a range of substance abuse treatment services, including inpatient and outpatient programs, medication-assisted treatment, and mental health support. Veterans can access these services by contacting their local VA medical center or speaking with their primary care provider about treatment options.

Longbranch Recovery: Tailored Addiction Treatment for Veterans

Trauma-Focused Therapies and Evidence-Based Practices

At Longbranch Recovery, we understand the unique challenges faced by veterans struggling with substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders. Our program is designed to provide comprehensive, evidence-based treatment that addresses the complex needs of this population. We place a strong emphasis on trauma-focused therapies, recognizing the significant impact that service-related traumas can have on an individual’s mental health and substance use.

a single men sad dealing with mental health

Our clinical team is trained in a range of trauma-focused interventions, including Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Prolonged Exposure (PE), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). These therapies have been shown to be effective in treating PTSD and other trauma-related disorders, helping individuals process and cope with painful memories and experiences. 

Relapse Prevention Planning

At Longbranch Recovery, we recognize that addiction is a chronic disease that requires ongoing management and support. That’s why we place a strong emphasis on continuing care and relapse prevention planning as essential components of our treatment program. We work closely with each veteran to develop a personalized aftercare plan that includes strategies for maintaining sobriety, building a strong support network, and addressing any ongoing mental health concerns.