Transitioning into civilian life after significant time spent undergoing countless measures of stress and living away from loved ones while in the United States Armed Forces can be a daunting journey unto itself. A veteran returns a changed person. The men and women who served within our military carry with them scars that may not only be physical, but can carry the weight and memory of their experiences in a way that impacts their mental and emotional health as well.
Sometimes it is this discord, both at the initial point of reentry into civilian life and beyond, that can lead a person to substance abuse, and in the worst case, addiction. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides care for the men and women who have served our country and who are in need of substance abuse treatment.
Signs And Symptoms Of Substance Abuse And Addiction
When a person is abusing drugs or alcohol, or suffers from an addiction, these patterns and behaviors are typically very disruptive to their life and manifest themselves in visible ways that can help you spot a problem in yourself or a loved one. With the latter four specific to addiction, they are:
- Failing to fulfill tasks or responsibilities that are essential to your family, job, or education
- Taking part in behaviors or falling prey to patterns that can be damaging to your mental and/or physical health, even in the capacity that it becomes detrimental to those around you
- Struggling with legal or financial problems that stem from your drug or alcohol use
- Not altering your substance use even though it is the source of problems within your health, relationships, and job and/or educational pursuits
- An overwhelming craving for drugs or alcohol that is more prevalent and increasing in its frequency
- Being unable to moderate the amount or stop use of drugs or alcohol once you begin using
- The emergence of a tolerance, finding that you need to use a greater amount of the drug or alcohol to achieve the same effect that you once obtained on a lesser amount
- Physical dependence made evident by symptoms of withdrawal that occur if a person either markedly reduces their use or stops altogether
It is of dire importance to seek treatment if you witness any of these signs or symptoms in yourself or someone close to you. The sooner you find help, the lesser the impact and damage the substance can exert on your body and mind. Substance abuse, and the often co-occurring mental health disorders, need to be faced head on as they can cause a myriad of problems, including an increased risk of suicide, substance-related death, and even homelessness.
Contributing Factors For Substance Abuse In The Veteran Population
Stress is one of the biggest precursors to substance abuse and addiction. Time spent within the military immerses a person in a multitude of challenges, responsibilities, and situations that impart stress on a person’s life. Just as this stress took many forms during service, it presents itself in a diversity of symptoms and behaviors when a person returns home. Some people may turn to drugs and/or alcohol as a means to cope with the their current stress set against the backdrop of lingering memories.
Emotional distress and instability are one of the largest things that precipitate substance abuse, and aggravate it once it’s started. During active duty, servicemen and women experience and witness events and scenarios that may elicit a strong emotional response that can resonate, and even haunt them far after the event has passed.
Co-occurring mental disorders can be a catalyst towards substance abuse and addiction. These refer to instances when a person struggles with not only a substance use disorder, but an accompanying mental health disorder. Mental health disorders are unfortunately quite prevalent within the veteran population. They include, but are not limited to depression and anxiety. What causes the greatest detriment, is that these disorders are often undiagnosed, or for some that may know, left untreated.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very serious condition, and as defined by the VA is “a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event,” in the case of a serviceperson, this often results from a their experience of a traumatic event within combat. The statistics speak for themselves, according to the VA out of every ten veterans with PTSD, more than two suffer from a substance use disorder (SUD), and of those seeking treatment, nearly 1 of 3 has PTSD.
Physical health problems that may have developed during active duty, and linger after, may lead to an SUD. Sometimes a person that is using a prescription to manage pain caused by a wartime injury begins misusing the drugs in a manner that could lead to abuse or addiction once they’ve returned home.
Seeking Treatment, Finding A Calm Within The Storm
If left to gather momentum, substance use disorders will set even deeper roots within a person’s life, effectively damaging and endangering their mental, emotional, and physical health. The only way to stop this cycle is by stopping their drug or alcohol use, which can feel like a near impossible task for many to do, especially on their own. Due in part to human nature and the stigma surrounding what is perceived weakness, many within the veteran population do not seek the help they so desperately need, which allows this destruction to continue.
Remember, asking for help is not at all a sign of weakness. Rather it is a measure of great strength to be able to step outside of yourself and rely on others for the support and guidance that could equate to emotional and mental freedom, and even more, freedom from the very substances that are threatening your health and prosperity.
How Does The VA Provide Veterans With Treatment And Rehabilitation?
The U.S Department of Veteran Affairs provides resources to the many men and women who suffer from substance abuse and addiction. This can help a person to overcome the devastating effects of this lifestyle, leading them towards a chance of freedom, health, sobriety, and even hope, allowing them access to a life that can be filled with promise and opportunity, instead of continual loss, suffering, and uncertainty. Now that we’ve outlined the ways drugs and alcohol can impacts a veteran’s life, we will show you exactly how the VA can help you, or a loved one get the help you need to create a better life.
The VA does provide special consideration within treatment for certain populations, including “women, OEF/OIF veterans, and homeless patients.” Additionally, they will strive to work with your lifestyle and schedule, and offer programs during both the evenings and weekends.
Due to the array of circumstances and conditions that may present within a veteran’s life, the VA has a diversity of resources, approaches, and therapies that they utilize within treatment. These may include group or individual therapy and the use of appropriate medications as determined by your addiction treatment team.
During treatment for a substance use disorder, the VA states that a patient “can expect to find the following types of care,” These include:
- A screening, available in all locations, that seeks to determine the presence of concerns surrounding alcohol or tobacco use
- Outpatient treatment
- Residential treatment options (they note too, that this is a good option for those that do not live in proximity to care, or for those that have troubles with housing)
- Detoxification, supported by the use of medications to help a person safely cease their use
- Services to help a person gain equilibrium through detox
- Ongoing care after sobriety is obtained, with specific attention to that which helps to prevent relapse
- Counseling that is available for problems centering around your marriage or family
- Self-help support groups
- Use of medications for replacement therapy and to conquer cravings with an emphasis on using newer medications.
Medication Assisted Treatment
In certain situations, it may be necessary to supplement and support treatment and therapy with medications. This varies depending on the extent and type of addiction, and may include drug, alcohol, and tobacco addictions. Medications may also be administered to treat any co-occurring disorders.
Tobacco is extremely addictive, and one that is very hard to overcome on your own. For this reason, the VA may utilize one, or a combination of the following: patches, gum, or lozenges; or prescription medications, including two listed on their site, bupropion and varenicline. The former holds dual benefit, as it has also been shown to aid in the treatment of depression.
When it comes to other drugs, opioids also often require the support of a medication to aid in detoxification, temper the risks and uncomfortable signs of withdrawal, and to support a person in maintaining their sobriety.
These include, as noted on the VA site, Methadone (used to help a person decrease or cease their use), buprenorphine/naloxone (helps to prevent withdrawal side effects), and naltrexone (encourages abstinence, as it blocks the opiates euphoric effects so the user doesn’t get high). The former can only be administered within a very specific program that is certified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration SAMHSA, whereas the others may be used in alternative treatment settings.
A person may struggle with the notion of taking a drug to get over their addiction to another drug. Please remember, sometimes this is necessary and worth it, if it helps you to find sobriety and maintain it.
The Doubled Edged Sword Of Addiction, Treating Co-Occurring Disorders
Within any avenue of proper and thorough substance abuse treatment, co-occurring mental health disorders should be evaluated for and treated. The VA realizes this and will focus their energies on treating or helping you to overcome any accompanying disorders or circumstances that may be inflaming your substance abuse.
As sourced from their site, in a section on mental health called Treatment Programs for Substance Use Problems, the VA lists some examples, including “posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, pain, disturbed sleep, irritability, and/or relationship problems,” which are all things that may either lead to an SUD, or result from one.
This is key to successful and lasting treatment, and preparation for relapse prevention. The hard facts are, these co-occurring disorders may in some cases be the root of the substance abuse or addiction, and also the fuel to the fire—mental health disorders can further inflame a person’s preexisting condition, creating what can be a vicious cycle that is further perpetuated by the fact that many SUDs may also result in mental health concerns.
Though this might seem overwhelming, specific focus and treatment that is adjacent to your substance abuse treatment is the only way your treatment will achieve maximum success and impact. If an addiction is treated without these, they will linger in a manner that may aggravate a person, or create a trigger that could cause them to relapse as they try to self-medicate.
Specifics Of Treatment For An Alcohol Use Disorder
If a person is seeking treatment for alcohol abuse or addiction, the VA will screen an individual, typically by using the AUDIT-C, and then follow it up with brief alcohol counseling.
As found on the VA site, as stated by Dr. Daniel Kivlahan, the National Program Director for Addictive Disorders in Mental Health Services at VA Central Office, “Brief alcohol counseling is a non-judging patient-centered intervention that can occur in less than 5 minutes and involves the primary care provider sharing their concern for the health of the Veteran and offering medically appropriate advice to stop drinking or drink within recommended limits.”
This may seem like too brief a time to offer any real help, but keep in mind, this is one of the first steps, and according to the VA, studies have shown that it “decreases drinking in primary care patients with alcohol misuse or encourages involvement with other treatment support for those with more serious problems.” What this means is that it helps to establish a dialogue and a realization about a person’s alcohol use, things that can help direct both parties in finding further and more thorough care if the need warrants it.
Regardless if the treatment is delivered within a outpatient or residential setting, in certain instances, your the VA team may determine that you need the support of certain medications that may be essential within your treatment. These medications will be used to manage and alleviate symptoms of withdrawal, treat the presence of any cravings, and help to obtain and maintain abstinence.
Can I Seek Help In A Facility Outside Of The VA?
Yes, despite the fact that you can receive a full spectrum of care from a VA treatment facility, some people may choose to seek treatment elsewhere. This is an intensely personal choice, one that needs to be made with great consideration. There is a wide-variety of treatment options that exist today, and choosing a program other than VA treatment may help to promote the sense of anonymity or distance that some people need, as these treatments may allow you to leave and begin your rehabilitation in a place that is somewhere other than your home.
One benefit (though it can also in some cases be a detriment) is that this will grant you the chance to have peers that are civilians, and in the process of group therapy and your day-to-day interactions, you might break down some of the walls you’ve created within you, and see that you’re not as different as you think. You may also have the opportunity to experience alternative forms of treatment, like adventure or pet therapy, the latter of which has shown promise in addiction treatment and for treating PTSD in veterans.
For people that choose an alternative route, they may be tempted to gloss over their time within the service, this is not wise. Your military history is inherently linked to who you are, how you experience your life, and in most cases your substance use and abuse. Though it is not the only facet to you, it is something that should be involved within the conversations and work you do within your rehabilitation.
You will always have access to counseling and therapy within any good rehabilitation program that you choose, but consider the fact that VA counseling allows you to work with a team that intimately understands your military background and the ways in which it has influenced your life, both during and after your deployment. Lastly, consider the finances—VA treatment is provided to you through our government, if you choose to seek an alternative treatment you will be incurring a personal financial burden that may place additional stress on you and your family.
Embrace A New Future Today
Regardless of what you choose, know that the VA is there to support you in your endeavors towards emotional, physical, and mental health, and know that to truly obtain these things, you must work towards treating and eliminating substance abuse and addiction. Contact us at DrugRehab.org to learn more about your options today.
For More Information Related to “Veterans Affairs (VA) Drug And Alcohol Treatment Programs” Be Sure To Check Out These Additional Resources From DrugRehab.org:
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- How Do I Get My Loved One Into Rehab?
- Adventure Therapy Addiction Treatment Programs
- Short Term Drug Rehab and Addiction Treatment Centers
- Can A Boot Camp For Drug Addicts Work?
- Scholarships And Grants To Cover Costs Of Drug Rehabilitation