Veterans face a range of challenges, especially after transitioning back to civilian life. Veterans are used to the structures and rigid rules of military life, and to having very set schedules as well as being ready for significant (but semi-expected) disruptions.
The adaptations and mindset needed to live a military life can leave our veterans vulnerable when they return to civilian lifestyles.
There are a lot of reasons beyond the trauma that can contribute to why veterans are more likely to develop substance use disorders including alcohol use disorder.
One of the big challenges to treating substance use disorders and providing alcohol abuse and drug addiction treatment is that treatment providers need to understand the treatment differences veterans need.
Don’t worry though, there are still options and treatment providers who understand that, for veterans, mental health treatment and drug addiction treatment often come hand in hand.
Veteran Stress and Challenges of Civilian Life
Veterans may be used to a higher-stress life in many ways, but that doesn’t mean that the coping mechanisms they used to get through military life are going to be as effective or helpful in civilian life.
Remember, the transition between military life and civilian life can represent a breakdown of a lot of social support systems that happen at the same time as a drastic change in social situations and routines.
That’s a lot of changes for anyone to handle all at once, especially since the loss of social support networks and the reality that many veterans have friends and family who don’t understand their experiences because they haven’t served themselves, means that veterans are often left feeling very alone.
Whether veterans are actually alone or not, civilian life presents a lot of unique challenges for veterans, and both the veteran and their loved ones should be prepared for when coming back to civilian life.
Drug Use and Abuse Among Veterans
Drug use among veterans, which can lead to substance use disorders, is another important area of concern. Because these veterans may have had prescriptions while they were on active duty that contribute to their substance use, and because the nature of being a veteran may make it more difficult to treat substance use disorders, it’s important to understand how veterans may use drugs, and when it becomes a problem.
Statistics & Prevalence
More than have been diagnosed with substance use disorder.
According to the same source, about 3.5% of veterans report using cannabis, while an additional 1.7% of veterans report using other illegal drugs.
Identifying Substance Use Disorder in Veterans
Veterans can often hide substance abuse more effectively than others. They may continue to be more productive than average, and may even behave similarly in many situations while under the influence of drugs.
However, substance use in veterans can often be identified by social withdrawal, increased anger, abnormal reactions to social situations and questions, or by becoming more secretive about any prescriptions the veteran has.
Wanting abnormal amounts of alone time, behavior or personality changes, and other warning signs may also be there.
Veterans may realize they have a substance use disorder, but decide to hide it, while others may not realize it’s a problem and need a friend or family member to intervene and help them recognize the disorder.
The Relationship Between Veterans And Alcoholism
Alcohol use and alcoholism are both relatively common among active-duty members of the military and among veterans. In some cases, a culture of binge drinking, heavy drinking, and the acceptance of alcohol use within the military might contribute to alcohol use among veterans.
Veteran Drinking Statistics
23% of male veterans report participating in a binge drinking culture, and 14% of female veterans report participating in binge drinking.
12% of infantry vets returning from deployment report behavior problems related to alcohol use disorder.
Identifying Alcohol Use Disorder in Veterans
Alcohol use disorder and alcoholism can look different in veterans than other people, or it can look very similar. One of the challenges in recognizing when a veteran is dealing with alcohol use disorder is that veterans may be less likely to see changes in productivity or to have alcohol begin interfering with their normal life compared with other people.
However, alcohol use can be associated with changes in relationships, and behavior (especially anger or fear reactions) and can often be seen by loved ones in the home long before outside behavioral changes begin.
Intervening early in alcohol use among veterans is key to helping them overcome the problem with a minimum of lasting consequences.
Mental Illness and Veterans
While exact numbers aren’t available because not all veterans are available for tracking purposes, roughly 18-22 veterans commit suicide every day in this country.
Additionally, veterans with substance use disorders of any kind are 3-4 times as likely to be diagnosed with PTSD or depression, though that’s a relationship between two different disorders and doesn’t necessarily mean that one caused the other.
It’s also important to note that chronic pain continues to be one of the most common diagnoses for veterans. Chronic pain is significant in the discussion about veteran mental health and mental health treatment because 15-35%< of veterans with chronic pain also have PTSD, and the two conditions can feed into each other.
Insurance Coverage for Veterans & VA Rehab
Because veterans have insurance coverage through the VA they may have access to resources and assistance that civilians can’t access. Every veteran’s coverage package looks a little different, and the process for getting treatment through the VA is a little different from civilian options.
However, that also means that veterans may have better access to care once they are diagnosed with alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder, and that treatment may be partially or completely covered. Many veterans and their families are also covered under TRICARE insurance. With TRICARE, you are able to get help outside of the VA as well.
How Does a Veteran or Their Family Seek Addiction Help?
Typically the first step in reaching out for help is contacting your local VA benefits office to set up an assessment. They need to confirm that you have a substance use disorder, as opposed to normal use of a prescription for chronic pain for instance, before approving treatment.
Once treatment is approved the VA center will provide you with available providers and treatment options. Options can range from individual therapy to rehab centers with inpatient or outpatient treatment options.
Depending on the situation, the VA may offer full coverage of treatment, partial coverage, or may fully cover some treatments and not others.
What Would Treatment Look Like for a Veteran or Their Family?
Treatment for service members can look very much like treatment for anyone else, or very different depending on their specific needs. Family members should also be encouraged to seek help from groups like al-anon or may be offered additional resources through the VA so that they are better able to offer support to their veterans.
The first step in the process is deciding which of your treatment options is right for you.
After deciding on the appropriate treatment option, at least to start, you’ll contact VA-approved providers to see if they have space available, or otherwise to get on a waitlist for treatment.
Once treatment begins, you’ll complete the process, ideally with providers that understand the unique needs of veterans, or in a veteran-specific program where you’ll be around peers who better understand your experience, and providers who can cater to your unique mental health challenges and needs.
How to Take the Next Steps
If you or your loved one is a veteran that may need help with a substance use disorder or mental health disorder, don’t despair. The first step is getting to the VA for an assessment and to find local treatment options.
Agape Treatment Center is one of the options you have available to you. We’re more than happy to help. As an in-network TRICARE provider, we’re able to assist right away. Here are some resources so you can learn more about us, our admissions and treatment process, and a gallery of our facility so you can get a better sense of where you’d be spending time during treatment.
We understand that veterans have a different experiences of the world. Agape’s treatment is tailored to veterans’ lived experiences and culture, as well as their unique individual needs and challenges.
We strive to provide comprehensive support for substance use disorders throughout treatment. We prioritize relearning healthy coping mechanisms and understanding the reasons for substance use disorders in the first place.
Don’t go it alone. You’re strong, but even the strongest individual can use extra support from time to time. Let us be here for you so that you can be the person you want to be as a veteran.