The United States is only starting to end the Global War on Terror, the longest war in its history, with over five million men and women having served during this conflict. The question that has long been on everyone’s minds is how we are to deal with the aftermath, especially concerning the GWOT’s long-term effects on our veterans.
It’s no secret that our military veterans are among the most vulnerable to alcoholism and drug addiction. Dallas rehabs saw a rise in veteran admissions since the start of the GWOT. Additionally, veterans are far more likely than the general population to experience depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. — all mental health conditions associated with substance misuse.
And while combat veterans are predictably the most likely to experience these issues, even veterans who were in support roles or did not directly experience combat are also more likely to experience some mental health issues as well, largely due to stresses that are not normally found in civilian occupations.
Post-traumatic stress and military service
Post-traumatic stress (PTS) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are positively linked to increased drug and alcohol use. To be clear, PTS and PTSD are not unique to military veterans. Law enforcement, healthcare, journalism, and transportation control professionals also experience high rates of PTS and PTSD compared to the general population.
However, the military is unique in its mission and culture, which often directly puts soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen in direct danger, often for reasons that are not always clear to them. The long GWOT has also exposed millions of American servicemen to more traumatic experiences than they would have otherwise experienced in peacetime, with most knowing someone who served who died in action or committed suicide afterwards.
To add to this, long deployments, sexual assault (reported by up to a quarter of female service members), family problems like spousal infidelity, and other issues that have become tragic tropes have taken a serious toll on hundreds of thousands of veterans.
Symptoms of PTS and PTSD
The main difference between PTS and PTSD is the persistence of symptoms. PTS will often resolve itself in a few months. PTSD, on the other hand, is a psychiatric disorder that requires extensive therapy and counseling for achieving recovery.
Some signs of PTS or PTSD include the following:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Poor short-term memory
- Aggressive behavior
- Poor cognition
- Difficulty concentrating
- Relationship issues
- Substance misuse
PTS and PTSD symptoms may come up by themselves or be triggered due to reminders of a traumatic experience. If you are a veteran with these symptoms, you can contact the VA or get in touch with a mental health expert to discuss your options.
Risks faced by veterans
Repeated traumas put veterans at an elevated risk of misusing drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. Veterans treated for drug and alcohol use disorders overwhelmingly tend to have co-occurring trauma as well, which can complicate treatment.
Unfortunately, proper psychiatric and addiction treatment is not always extended to service members, and many refuse to seek treatment for mental health issues. Some anti-anxiety medications used to treat PTS and PTSD symptoms are also highly addictive, which increases the chances of veterans developing a substance use disorder.To add to this, many veterans also experience chronic pain related to their service, which means they are more likely than the general population to be prescribed opioid pain medication. While often necessary, this further increases the risk of opioid use disorders later on.
What co-occurring mental disorders mean for addiction treatment
In addiction treatment circles, co-occurring psychiatric and substance use issues are often called “dual diagnosis”. A dual diagnosis can make it very difficult for affected individuals to recover from any of their existing conditions.
A dual diagnosis can often lead to a vicious cycle. Trauma, depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions can lead to additional drug or alcohol use. Conversely, substance abuse can also cause mental health problems or intensify the severity of existing ones.
Importantly, the risk of relapse tends to remain significant if only substance use issues are treated. Good long-term outcomes are usually only possible when both substance use and psychiatric health issues are treated at the same time. Unfortunately, not all rehab programs are equipped to properly treat a dual diagnosis.
Given that dual diagnosis is common among veterans, it’s important for any vet seeking treatment for alcohol or drug use disorders should also get screened for potential co-occurring psychiatric issues. Getting screened early and having substance use disorders and other mental health problems treated at the same time can significantly improve the odds of a full recovery.
Addiction treatment options for veterans
While things are far from perfect, veterans have a wider range of addiction and psychiatric treatment options compared to most civilians. Veterans can seek help through the Department of Veterans Affairs or regular residential and outpatient treatments. If you’re in North Texas, Dallas Drug Treatment Centers can give you a comprehensive listing of programs connected with the VA as well as other programs that accept military insurance.