Veterans, after their battles on the front lines, come home fighting a battle within themselves.

Every year, thousands of troops leave active duty service and become military veterans within their communities. The demands of military service, including the trauma of combat, may contribute to substance use among veterans. Because of the unique circumstances surrounding their addiction and its underlying causes, it is important that veterans have therapeutic programming that is catered to them and their life experiences.

Veterans and PTSD

While many individuals suffering from addiction also suffer from PTSD, it is often the catalyst for addiction in veterans. Many veterans suffering from an addiction have co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Once referred to as “shellshock” and later “battle fatigue,” PTSD can be caused by witnessing warfare or other significantly tragic or startling events. Although most cases of PTSD are caused by combat, veterans may also develop the disorder after sexual abuse — about 23 percent of female veterans have reported being sexually assaulted during their time in the military.

Some symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Memory problems
  • Low sense of self-worth
  • Hopelessness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Relationship problems
  • Aggression
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Self-destructive behavior (self-harm or substance abuse)

These symptoms may be triggered by anything that is a reminder of the traumatic incident. Many veterans turn to substance abuse to self-medicate and numb their pain.

Individuals with PTSD often struggle to get sober because of the amplification of negative feelings without drugs and alcohol to numb them. This makes it hard to get sober and may lead to relapse if the trauma is not addressed.

As a way to treat PTSD within the veteran community, oftentimes vets have been prescribed anxiety medications or other potentially addictive prescription medications to treat their trauma. This leads them into a negative cycle of addiction.

During their military duties, few service members will risk using illicit drugs because it can result in a dishonorable discharge. Drinking, however, is an ingrained part of military culture and carries over into their civilian lives. Often, veterans and service members will self-medicate with alcohol. Before long, binge drinking turns into a daily habit in order to dull the thoughts and numb the feelings.

Veterans and Addiction Treatment

When veterans begin addiction treatment is important that they begin to address the negative feelings and begin to work through them. PTSD treatment is of significant importance for those who are showing signs of the disorder. Through various types of talk therapy, group therapy, specialty therapies, and visits with the resident psychiatrist, veterans are able to begin to treat the source of their substance abuse and heal.

At RECO, we help our veterans by:

  • increasing and making clearer the veteran’s motivation for change
  • helping veterans to improve their skills for spotting and dealing with triggers and relapse risks
  • counseling couples together on how to recover from substance abuse and how to improve relationships
  • getting outside support for recovery, including programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • looking at how substance use problems may relate to other problems such as PTSD and depression.