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Military Service, PTSD, and Addiction

Every day, men and women from all across the United States decide to sign up for a career in the military. They willingly choose to put themselves in a situation that can put their lives at risk, all for a country full of people they do not even know.  

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reported that more than 2 in 10 veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Despite numerous attempts by the VA and other agencies to reduce problematic substance use, the rates for SUDs in veterans continue to rise at alarming rates.

PTSD and substance abuse in veterans can cause pain, anger, depression, isolation, and sleep deprivation. Those who were exposed to war show a significant amount of stress long after their allocated time in service. When a person experiences a traumatic event and it is left untreated, unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse can quickly surface.

PTSD and Substance Abuse

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs when a person experiences a traumatic event such as a terrorist act, war, combat, or sexual assault. People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings. They may relive the event over and over, even long after the traumatic event occurred. Individuals with PTSD suffer from flashbacks or nightmares; they feel overwhelmed with sadness and aggression. They may be constantly on edge, feeling as though they live in a state of fear and anxiety. 

Veterans who struggle with PTSD usually come home from their deployment unaware of the severity of their issues until they attempt to transition back into civilian life. For many veterans, the added stress to find employment, renewed family responsibilities, and the loss of identity combine with their untreated PTSD to become a perfect storm for substance abuse. 

When an individual experiences trauma, their body reacts by increasing the levels of endorphins in the brain. This helps the body by reducing their perception of pain, allowing them to push through the trauma without having to actually process all the negative emotions. However, after the trauma has passed, the body reacts by decreasing those endorphin levels, causing a person to experience symptoms associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is at this crossroads where many veterans turn to drugs or alcohol to help boost those endorphin levels while also numbing the emotional and physical pain of their trauma. 

Know the Statistics

The National Alliance of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that the most prevalent type of substance use problems among Veterans includes heavy drinking. Veterans with PTSD and alcohol problems are more likely to “binge drink”, or consume 4-5 drinks or more in a period between 1-2 hours. The VA adds that nearly 1 in 3 veterans who seek treatment for their SUD become diagnosed with PTSD. Compared to the general population, veterans are more likely to be diagnosed with a drug and alcohol disorder. These numbers continue to rise drastically.  

The Use of Seeking Treatment

Veterans who are diagnosed with both PTSD and SUD should be treated for co-occurring disorders, as integrated treatment continues to prove to be the most effective form of treatment. Through integrated treatment, veterans can receive assistance to address their PTSD and SUD simultaneously. Studies have shown that integrated treatment can produce strong results in relapse prevention, sobriety maintenance, and coping skills. 

The Importance of Psychotherapy

Veterans struggling with co-occurring disorders have shown to benefit by participating in evidence-based psychotherapies and behavioral interventions such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT helps individuals identify and modify maladaptive thoughts and behaviors that can be associated with increased cravings and use. Trauma-focused psychotherapy is highly recommended to treat individuals with PTSD. Through these methods of treatment, a person can focus on the memory of a traumatic event, while equipping them with different techniques to help process their experiences. 

Pharmacotherapy for Treating PTSD

Although medications can be used to help reduce withdrawal symptoms for those suffering from PTSD and SUD, it is important to have all medications monitored by a healthcare professional. 

Various forms of treatment are available for Veterans burdened with PTSD and SUDs. Substance Use Disorder treatment services designed for veterans can be found through the VA Medical Center, which can be reached all across the United States. Unfortunately, gaining services through the VA comes with its challenges, especially for those individuals living in more rural areas who do not have a qualified provider nearby. 

Over 40% of veterans live in rural parts of America, causing access to services to be difficult for many in need. Luckily, increased access to mental health care via online telehealth services allows for an improved quality of life for all veterans, regardless of location. 


With so many men and women choosing to put their lives at risk for their country, it is only right to provide effective treatment to help veterans to manage their trauma. Imagine living a life in constant fear. Imagine dreading to fall asleep, as you are afraid of what awaits you in your dreams. Nightmares and night terrors are just one of the many hauntings that people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder experience. These feelings are overwhelming for servicemen and women, causing them to find ways to self-medicate by any means necessary. Veterans deserve to find relief. Through proper care and treatment, there are ways to help you manage your symptoms while allowing you to live a life that is no longer consumed with darkness. RECO Intensive wants to help you with this fight. You do not need to keep battling it alone. Reach out to us today at (561) 464-6533.

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