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Veterans of our armed forces face a heightened vulnerability to substance abuse. Many of our returning military personnel have been forced to see and do things during combat of which civilians can’t even conceive; these experiences and memories often lead to crippling trauma that sufferers often medicate with drugs or alcohol. In addition to this trauma, acute physical injuries related to combat and other aspects of service often lead to higher rates of prescription drug misuse and subsequent addiction. As the rates of substance use disorder (SUD) among this population remains consistently high, alcohol and drug rehab for veterans must address the unique and specific physical and emotional issues that these patients face.
According to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than the percent of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also suffer from SUD, and 30 percent who seek treatment for PTSD also report SUD. Approximately 10 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans struggle with drug or alcohol addiction. One major study of nearly six hundred veterans published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that 39 percent of all participants screened met the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD), 3 percent for probable drug use, and 14 percent for probable PTSD. Another study of nearly 680,000 active military personnel found increased rates of depression and SUD, and research indicates that more than 40 percent of active-duty military report binge drinking in the past month.
The most prevalent types of SUD among veterans include heavy episodic drinking, cigarette smoking, and prescription opioid abuse. Data from the Department of Veterans Affairs indicates that more than 68,000 veterans are addicted to opioid painkillers and that half of all those receiving care from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) suffer from chronic pain.
As PTSD is a dominant factor in the onset of substance abuse among veterans, it’s helpful for alcohol and drug treatment programs that offer modalities that cater to both conditions, including but not limited to:
While treatment should be targeted and customized toward each individual patient, basic elements should include medical detox and comprehensive behavioral rehab. Detox will help address any withdrawal symptoms and corresponding medical issues that occur as a result of prolonged and untreated substance use, while behavioral rehab can help patients address the origins and sustaining factors of their addiction. Because of the highly unique and specific nature of veterans’ potential psychological stressors, it helps to have trained therapists who understand the plight of the returning soldier. Two of the most common issues that lead veterans to addiction are trauma and the inability to successfully transition back into their civilian lives once they retire, whether it’s a problem relating to their friends or families, finding work, or anything else.
Rehab should consist of group therapy, individualized counseling, supplemental modalities, and aftercare that builds on the progress patients made in treatment while offering referral information to addiction-trained therapists and support groups in the patients’ individual areas. Alcohol and drug rehab could be offered in a residential or outpatient treatment paradigm, depending upon patients’ care needs. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers comprehensive information regarding how to pay for drug and alcohol rehab.
You spent years protecting our country—now it’s your turn to protect yourself. If you or someone you care about is a veteran suffering from alcohol or drug addiction, you can start fighting back today to reclaim your life from this devastating disease. There are more treatment resources than ever before to help veterans address the complicated and multilayered nature of their substance use issues, so start fighting back today to reclaim your life and secure your future.
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