Veterans face unique challenges that complicate treatment. The best treatment option for veterans is a facility that specializes in treating military personnel. Veterans treatment should include:
- A focus on co-occurring disorders, especially Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- A history of success specifically with veterans
- Treatment staff with recovery and military experience
- On-site psychiatrists and after-hours availability
- Programs for transitioning out of rehab and into jobs and housing
- Assistance with aftercare coordination
In addition to private treatment, there are options for treatment provided by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. These services are free of cost for those who serve, but many veterans opt for a private treatment center that takes military insurance (TRICARE). Veterans’ needs are not the same across the board, so the best choice for one veteran may be different for another.
What is the best kind of treatment for veterans?
The best programs for veterans have the following things in common:
- The program is specifically designed to treat veterans and active-duty military.
- They Help individuals identify trauma and heal from post-traumatic stress
- Incorporate life skills that help veterans reintegrate into society
- Have veterans in recovery on staff
Two therapies have shown a lot of promise in treating PTSD and addiction in veterans: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). The most comprehensive veteran programs offer both therapies.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy addresses three components:
- How we think
- How we feel
- How we act
In treatment, addiction experts use CBT to challenge the thoughts, feelings and actions that drive people to continue using drugs and alcohol. Additionally, CBT helps people develop a healthier, more balanced thought process and learn to use coping techniques when they become distressed.
Most CBT takes the form of talk therapy, such as a one-on-one session with a counselor. However, CBT is also effective in a group setting. In addition to post-traumatic stress disorder, CBT is used to help veterans deal with depression, social anxiety, sleep disorders and more.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy technique used to help people process their traumatic memories. With the help of a therapist, the individual recalls painful memories as they come to terms with what happened to them.
EMDR is unique because it incorporates side-to-side movement of light, sounds or objects while the individual recalls the traumatic event. The back and forth motion helps the subject go deeper into their memories without becoming distressed.
EMDR incorporates elements of talk therapy and exposure therapy. While it can be painful to recall these memories, most people feel better as they continue and end up getting real, long-term relief from their PTSD symptoms.
Here are some tips that could improve the chances of success during EMDR:
- Ensure that the treating doctor is aware that the patient is battling both conditions
- Schedule treatments back to back so there is no gap between them
- Keep loved ones involved in recovery to maintain accountability
This type of therapy is not only helpful for veterans, but for anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. Mental health professionals use EMDR and other trauma techniques to help people heal from things like car accidents, child abuse or violent bullying.
Should I get help for PTSD or addiction first?
There is no need to treat one before the other. It is best to treat PTSD and substance abuse disorders simultaneously. Treating one disorder at a time leaves room for the cycle to start up and relapse to occur before both conditions have been managed successfully.
Not only that, many of the cognitive techniques that help reframe addictive thoughts can also be used to treat post-traumatic stress symptoms. Drug or alcohol treatment is the perfect time to address PTSD because there is so much overlap between the two.
Does trauma cause addiction?
No. The link between PTSD and substance use disorder is strong and complex, but it’s not as simple as saying that trauma causes addictive behavior. There are many social, environmental and genetic factors that are at play. Trauma is just one of these factors.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Abuse Disorder are problems that fuel each other. Managing one requires also managing the other.
Can addiction treatment help with PTSD symptoms?
Substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms fuel each other. Many veterans fall into substance abuse as a method for self-medicating for PTSD. However, drugs and alcohol can amplify the effects of PTSD. In turn, this can drive the individual to use substances even more frequently or in greater amounts, creating a cycle that is difficult to escape.
Addiction treatment on its own can help with PTSD symptoms because it breaks the cycle. However, treating the addiction is not the same as treating the underlying condition of PTSD. For lasting success, both conditions must be addressed during treatment.
Why do some veterans struggle with substance abuse but others don’t?
Many variables can contribute to veterans developing substance use disorder. These include:
- Genetic predisposition to addiction
- Co-occurring disorders, like anxiety disorder, depression and bipolar disorder
- Traumatic events experienced while serving
- Trauma from earlier in their lives
- Lack of resources and support while serving and at home
Individuals can struggle with any combination of these factors, and to varying degrees. Each of these variables impacts how susceptible someone is to developing substance abuse disorder.
What are the best veteran rehab programs?
The best veteran rehab programs understand the intricacies of treating addiction in service members, have strong success rates with veterans, and are a good fit for the individual. While it can be tempting to base your decision on convivence, take time to evaluate the options. The best rehab for you is the one that helps you not only get sober but maintain that sobriety long-term.
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Menon SB, Jayan C. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: a conceptual framework. Indian J Psychol Med. 2010;32(2):136-140. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.78512
NIDA. Substance Use and Military Life DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/substance-use-military-life. October 23, 2019 Accessed January 29, 2021.
Reisman M. PTSD Treatment for Veterans: What’s Working, What’s New, and What’s Next. P T. 2016;41(10):623-634.
US Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Depression (CBT-D). Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/depression/cbt-d.asp
US Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). PTSD and Problems with Alcohol Use. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/related/problem_alcohol_use.asp
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