Service in the nation’s military requires bravery, strength, resilience, and intelligence. An ability to face down any challenge is a hallmark of those who serve. But sometimes the stresses and challenges of military service take a serious toll—and when they do, a sort of paradox can develop.
Examining This Paradox
That paradox works like this: a serviceperson who is suffering from trauma, injury, grief, or a combination of those things may turn to drugs or alcohol to help lessen the emotional or physical pain and make coping easier. Eventually, the drug or alcohol use can become problematic, and a substance use disorder develops. Because they are trained to overcome challenges with gritty resolve, the serviceperson may believe they can—even must—tackle their substance use on their own. And so the very thing that defines their character in the military becomes a barrier to getting the help they need. The more they resist asking for help, the worse the situation becomes. The ultimate result of this paradox can be truly tragic as a veteran’s life is shattered—or even ended prematurely.
It is vitally important to encourage veterans who are suffering to take the steps necessary to get their lives back on track. Help is available—and if more veterans were aware of how many of their fellow service members face similar challenges, they might feel less embarrassed or ashamed and more encouraged to get that help.
Let’s take a look at the situation regarding the mental health and substance use challenges veterans frequently must combat.
Fact-Finding Mission – Notes on Substance Abuse Among Veterans
According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, there is a strong connection between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders:
- Around 10% of service members returning from Afghanistan or Iraq struggle with drugs and/or alcohol. For example, veterans who have served in a war who suffer from PTSD are more likely to binge drink (consume four beverages or more over the course of up to two hours).
- More than 20% of veterans who suffer from PTSD are also struggling with a substance use disorder. Looked at the other way around, data shows that one in three veterans who seek treatment for a substance use disorder have PTSD.
Among female veterans—the fastest growing group of veterans—the prevalence of PTSD is particularly high. Female veterans are twice as likely to have PTSD or other mental health disorders that are related to their service. In addition, one in five female veterans has experienced some form of sexual trauma—including assault or rape—while serving.
But Post Traumatic Stress Disorder isn’t the only thing that can contribute to a veteran’s substance use disorder. Other issues include chronic pain due to combat injuries, traumatic brain injury, the loss of a close friend in combat, a worsening of preexisting mental health challenges like depression or anxiety, and a lack of a strong support network after military service comes to an end.
Addressing Co-Occurring Disorders is Key Strategy
As the information above suggestions, veterans are often facing more than a substance use disorder. Co-occurring mental health disorders—like PTSD, anxiety, and depression—are extremely common among those who have served in the military. If you are suffering from a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder, it is extremely important that you are open and honest with your healthcare providers. Treatment for just one or the other—the mental health issue or the substance use issue—is far less likely to be beneficial in the long run. Instead, effective treatment will address both issues simultaneously.
We Are Grateful for Your Service and Here to Serve You
All of us at Safe Harbor Recovery Center are grateful to everyone who has served our country—and we want to make sure that we are fully prepared to meet the unique needs of the veteran community. For that reason, we recently acquired certification from the PsychArmor Institute, which means Safe Harbor Recovery Center is officially a “Veteran Ready Healthcare Provider Organization.” Our staff has completed specialized training in order to better understand, treat, and engage with veterans and their families.
We also offer compassionate, personalized care and have the expertise to address co-occurring mental health disorders that may be associated with—and contributing to—a substance use disorder. We understand the importance of listening and of working together to build a firm foundation for lasting recovery.
If you or a veteran in your life is struggling with a substance use disorder, we would be honored to help. We promise to honor your service by providing outstanding service to you and your loved ones.
Additional Resources for Dealing with a Crisis
While a dedicated rehabilitation program—like the one offered at Safe Harbor Recovery Center—is the best way to combat a substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health disorders, there may be times when a veteran needs an immediate crisis intervention to prevent self-harm or suicide. For those situations, the following hotlines can help right away: