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May 15, 2021

If you have a military veteran, they need all the medical and psychological help they can get to recover.

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Military service is hard, no matter what your mental strength levels are. It is taxing to see war and fighting, both physically and emotionally. What is rarely discussed until recently is the impact of military service on the mental health of veterans.

According to statistics from the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), a person who is still serving in the military has a lower substance abuse rate than civilian rates. Still, the same statement is a different story when you begin to talk about veterans. Both younger and older veterans have a very high substance abuse rate, and some even commit suicide. If you have someone close to you who is still in the military or has been discharged, you need to know how to give them the best care – that begins from understanding why their cases are so high.

Why are drug abuse rates high among veterans?

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There could be various causes for this, but the main one seems to be developing PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. In particular, the veterans who have seen combat and war live or have gone through traumatic experiences in the course of duty have higher chances of developing it.

PTSD is mainly characterized by replaying the events in the form of nightmares or flashbacks. You can also notice it when the person avoids situations and places that remind them of what happened, and they begin to go through hypersensitive reactions even more than a month after the events occurred. The stress that results from this disorder means that the person has a greater chance of developing substance abuse.

Because the rates of substance abuse are very high among these people, it has resulted in the need to create a program for specialized veteran drug abuse treatment. This takes into account the complications that PTSD brings, making it essential to refine its approach. It also helps the person manage the stigma and issues that make the rise of PTSD not well known and encourages them to talk about it and heal.

Why substance abuse often occurs in PTSD patients

The high levels of fear and stress resulting from the condition lead to extreme mood changes and emotional balance. Thus, the person who has the condition turns to drugs and alcohol to relieve the symptoms they are facing – most times, they do not want to talk about what they went through.

Using drugs to manage symptoms is called self-medication, and it is dangerous because it leads to drug addiction soon after. In fact, the prevalence rate is very high – affecting up to 36.6 percent of people with PTSD. Exposure to trauma affects more than 97 percent of all people who have problems with substance abuse. This has led to the conclusion that trauma and other cases involving PTSD are part of the reason many turn to alcohol and drugs and increase addiction cases.

Co-occurring PTSD and substance abuse in veterans

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Since being a veteran means you will likely experience some traumatic events that raise the chances of developing the condition, the U.S. Department of VA (Veterans Affairs) confirms this as well – more than two in ten veterans with the condition also experience substance abuse. One out of three veterans who have sought treatment for alcohol and drug abuse also has PTSD.

Despite these gloomy statistics, it is important to note that the PTSD condition is not always the cause for substance abuse. Interestingly, substance abuse can also be a cause of PTSD. For instance, alcoholics have a harder time trying to deal with traumatic experiences effectively, making alcohol abusers more likely to develop the condition.

Of interest is the high alcohol consumption rates among military veterans and active service members, which means they have a higher alcohol and substance abuse rate.

Differences in gender cases

The general observation is that women in military service have fewer abusing alcohol and drugs than men. However, women who have gone through traumatic experiences in the military or other traumatic events have a higher chance of getting into substance abuse.

Mainly, women in the service will tend to go through sexual abuse, while men will go through combat trauma. Since this is the case, there is also a need to give customized treatment using gender as a base.

What about treatment?

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The concerns and personality differences of people who serve in different military positions will be different from the general civilian population, which means some problems will develop when their special needs are not satisfied.

These are such as differences in the traumatic experience of male and female military personnel, fear of consequences from the military’s leadership, meaning they do not open up easily, and the fact that there is a greater stigma level regarding substance abuse and PTSD within the military. There are also various challenges veteran experiences when they attempt to reintegrate themselves into civilian life, and there is a high prevalence of physical and brain injuries among veterans.

These and many more are part of why a veteran will find it difficult to reintegrate into civilian life since civilians do not understand their struggles very well. This is also confirmed by reports of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The varieties of treatment present


The best treatment method that seems to work for veterans is the integrated approach, which combines the treatment for substance abuse and PTSD. If they are done separately, they do not seem to be effective because they tend to feed each other. Some strategies include group and individual therapy and contingency management treatment.

Final thoughts

Dealing with the symptoms of PTSD is not easy, but it gets even more challenging for veterans because of the circumstances of their work. Therefore, it is essential to understand their side of the story and encourage them to pursue treatment and therapy methods that can allow them to heal.

Craig Bowen

Certified alcohol practitioner. Professional writer. Pop culture fanatic. Student. Explorer. Music scholar. Lifelong creator. Managed a small team developing strategies for puppets in Suffolk, NY. Spent high school summers building toy soldiers in Africa. Spent the better part of the 90's getting my feet wet with magma in Africa. Practiced in the art of writing about heroin in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Earned praised for my work lecturing about bagpipes in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Spent several months working on heroin for farmers.

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