Veteran in recovery

Veterans are Much More Likely to Struggle with Mental Health Issues than Civilians

The transition from military to civilian life can be one of the most difficult journeys a Veteran will ever make. The psychological and emotional cost of service can often lead to life-altering issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Causes of Addiction in Veterans

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 20% of Veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan are dealing with substance abuse issues. There are many underlying causes that contribute to this problem.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one factor that may lead some Veterans to turn towards substance abuse as a way to cope. PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by exposure to traumatic events, and it affects a large portion of veterans returning home from combat. PTSD is caused by witnessing or experiencing trauma and can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. Combat related stress can also lead some veterans down the path of addiction, as they try to dull their emotions without realizing the long-term consequences of relying on drugs or alcohol for relief.

Veterans with PTSD might experience flashbacks, nightmares, or trouble sleeping; they may feel angry or irritable; and they may even resort to self-destructive behaviors like substance abuse. Additionally, Veterans with PTSD often have difficulty maintaining relationships with friends and family members due to feelings of isolation or guilt. To make matters worse, many Veterans lack access to essential resources that could help them cope with their symptoms more effectively.

The VA offers counseling options for Veterans dealing with PTSD, as well as resources for those struggling with addiction or substance abuse issues.

Some Veterans are Higher Risk than Others

While the emphasis in the military is in working as a team, civilian life offers more in the way of autonomy. Also, the inherent dangers of serving in a combat zone or experiencing a tragedy represent a major contrast to normal everyday living.

Veterans who serve as commissioned officers who graduate from college have an easier time readjusting to post-military life than soldiers who enlist and graduate from high school.

If a Veteran had a clear understanding of their mission during their service, they also experienced fewer problems with getting used to civilian life than the men and women who did not fully understand their assignment.

Statistically, one study showed that about 21%  of Veterans found transitioning to be somewhat difficult while 6% had real difficulties getting used to mainstream life once again.

Veterans who experienced an emotionally traumatic event when they were serving in the military, or suffered a severe injury, were also more likely to report re-entry problems.

Veterans who served after the 9/11 attack also stated they had more difficulties with returning home than soldiers who served during the era of the Second World War, Korean War, or who lived through the Vietnam conflict. This is especially true of post 9/11 Veterans who are married.

Moreover, Veterans with a higher level of religious belief had an easier time coping with returning to their former way of life.

Challenges for Veterans with a Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

Veterans who are struggling with addiction face many obstacles, including guilt. This powerful emotion can be a result of feeling responsible for their addiction and the effects it has had on their life and loved ones. Guilt can also be caused by veterans associating their addiction to the experiences they’ve had while in service, such as trauma, combat stress, and other emotional scars.

The struggle with guilt can often lead veterans down a path of self-destructive behavior such as drinking too much or engaging in dangerous activities that further fuel their addictions. Veterans may avoid seeking help because of feelings of shame or embarrassment about having an addiction or being unable to control it. In addition to guilt, veterans may have difficulty finding resources to assist them in recovery due to lack of knowledge or financial constraints.

Treatment Options for Veterans

Fortunately, there are various treatment options available for Veterans who are struggling with addiction. These include both inpatient and outpatient programs as well as behavioral support such as self-help groups, group therapy, and one-on-one counseling.  The V.A. recently announced  that starting Jan. 17th, 2023, all Veterans will be able to access emergency mental health care free of charge at any Veterans Affairs medical facility or outside clinic, regardless of whether they are already enrolled in department health care services.

Veterans are be eligible for various government-sponsored programs and services, such as VA sponsored initiatives. For instance, the VA offers medication options for substance use disorders (SUDs) in the form of the following:

  • Safe medical detoxification to stabilize the SUD
  • Drug substitution treatments as well as the administration of medications to reduce drug cravings, such as buprenorphine or methadone (to treat opiate use disorder or OUD)
  • Nicotine replacement therapy for stopping smoking

Counseling may take the form of short-term or intensive outpatient therapies, or family and marriage counseling. Veterans with addictions may also opt for residential care or take part in a continuing care program to prevent a relapse. Many patients benefit from programs that offer a combination of medication and psychological intervention such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

Special programs are also featured for Veterans, including returning combat Veterans or women who have served in the military.

Addiction-related treatment is provided, as well, for depression and PTSD.

Veterans who receive these services can apply for VA health care online. Intensive outpatient options that are private and personalized are also available for Veterans with SUDs.

Veterans Have More Options than Ever

Every day, countless veterans struggle with addiction. While it can be hard to seek help, the stakes are far too high for them not to. Addiction is deadly, and it has already taken the lives of far too many veterans.
As a nation, we must make sure our veterans have access to the help they need when they come home from war. There are so many resources available to them; all they have to do is take that first step and reach out for assistance. From specialized counseling centers in major cities to online support networks, there’s something out there for everyone who needs it. The Department of Veterans Affairs also provides help through its suicide prevention hotline and other programs aimed specifically at helping veterans struggling with addiction issues.