Content reviewed by Nicholas G. Glines, Executive Director at New Hope Ranch
Nearly everyone struggles with mental health from time to time. More often than not, mental health disorders are triggered by traumatic life experiences or chronic stress. One community that is uniquely vulnerable to such traumatic life experiences is veterans, individuals that served in the active military, naval or air services to protect our rights and freedoms.
Veterans — especially individuals who served in active duty or combat — tend to experience mental health disorders and substance use disorder (SUD) at higher and more intense rates compared to non-veterans due to the fact that they have, on average, endured greater stress and trauma in their lives.
After years of service, our veterans need intimate, trauma-informed care to recover from their mental health and SUD. It is important to recognize that because veterans have different life experiences than non-veterans, they require unique treatment interventions and recovery support.
Veteran Vulnerability to Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders
Through media, society may recognize that the most common mental health challenges veterans face are PTSD and depression. However, service members tend to also struggle with suicidal ideation, traumatic brain injury (TBI), SUD and interpersonal violence, among other conditions. Not only do the effects of these issues interfere with a veteran’s ability to function normally in their daily life, but these effects also significantly impact other service members as well as their families.
While active duty and combat can certainly contribute to increased risks of developing these conditions, general military service can also increase risks. Traumatic events and associated stress affect every individual differently.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Veterans
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that includes symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares that contribute to the avoidance of reminders, hypervigilance and sleep disturbances. This condition is often debilitating as symptoms can interfere with all aspects of an individual’s life.
Veterans often develop PTSD because they are exposed to various potentially traumatizing stimuli and environments. An individual does not have to be the victim of trauma to develop PTSD. Often, wartime deployments cause military personnel to witness severe injuries, both expected or unexpected, which can be traumatic. Regardless, many veterans seek recovery from PTSD and the painful symptoms it can cause.
Depression and Veterans
Depression is one of the leading mental health disorders for individuals in the military, as well as veterans. The military environment can be a catalyst for developing depression, as it involves:
- Stressors of combat
- Separation from family and other loved ones
- Seeing oneself and others in harm’s way
Depression can manifest through various symptoms, such as chronic fatigue, thoughts of worthlessness, inability to concentrate, depressed mood and suicidal ideation. Suicidal ideation is a problem for veterans in and of itself, with veteran suicide rates exceeding 6,000 veterans per year.
Substance Use Disorder and Veterans
For those in the active or general military, substance use is normalized. Alcohol is a common stress reliever and may be used to increase socialization among military personnel. As substance abuse is common among veterans, it often contributes to significant adverse outcomes. Other substances that are commonly used among veterans include nicotine and caffeine, prescription medications such as opioids and stimulants, and illicit drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin.
Substance use of any kind can lead to impaired self-control and increased aggressive behavior. SUD is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and drug-using behaviors, Once SUD develops, it can often only be resolved through treatment.
What Mental Health and Substance Use Recovery Might Look Like for Veterans
Veterans seeking recovery from substance abuse and co-occurring mental health problems will need intimate, trauma-focused care from a treatment facility that specializes in treating veterans. This is because veterans have unique barriers to and needs for treatment. For example, a hospital setting may be triggering for veterans seeking recovery. As a result, a residential setting with outdoor activities and other recreational activities may be more inviting and settling.
Recovery for veterans must be trauma-informed and trauma-focused, as many mental health and substance use conditions this group of people experience developed from trauma. Treatment facilities must work to connect recovering them with other veterans also seeking treatment and recovery to facilitate socialization and understanding among one another. Both one-on-one psychotherapy interventions and life skills building are necessary for a full recovery.
Treatment for veterans must also be individualized. If any co-occurring conditions are present, they must be treated simultaneously. Upon arrival to a treatment program, a veteran will need to go through detoxification to rid their bodies of substances safely and effectively. Throughout treatment and recovery, medication may be necessary to ease withdrawal symptoms and treat co-occurring conditions.
For veterans struggling with SUD and mental health conditions, it is essential to understand that treatment is readily available. Do not procrastinate recovery.
New Hope Ranch is a men’s-only addiction treatment facility that offers a Veterans Program. We offer a warm residential treatment setting alongside personalized treatment plans to create the most effective healing environment for veterans. Our caring and supportive staff is devoted to helping our nation’s servicemen rebuild their lives and reintegrate into their communities. To learn more about our Veterans Program, give us a call today at (737) 600-8565.