The United States proud history of military service is one that is both admirable and often essential to our country’s role in global politics. But, for the 18.5 million men and women now discharged from the military, that service makes them more vulnerable to substance abuse and substance use disorders, known as SUDs or addiction. As a result, as many as 48% of all veterans binge drink, with many suffering from severe issues relating to drug use, including substance use disorder.
As a veteran, you have more resources than most when seeking treatment for SUD. However, it’s also more important that you seek out the right treatment program. Veterans turn to substances like drugs and alcohol for a variety of underlying reasons including trauma, PTSD, military-related exposure to violence, bullying, sexual assault, and a range of other factors. Seeking out a facility where the full range of physical, emotional, and psychological causes can be treated in a timely and holistic manner is crucial to fully recovering.
Why Are Veterans Vulnerable to Substance Use Disorder?
Any individual who has served in the military understands that doing so results in a unique set of stresses and pressure on the human psyche. Even individuals who never make it to war zones are exposed to extremely stressful training, discipline, and harsh conditions in which people are expected to suppress self-expression and individuality, forego personal hobbies and pleasures, and dedicate themselves entirely to a set of strict lifestyle choices for the military. This ultimately changes the individual personality and psychology, sometimes in traumatic ways. For individuals who are exposed to war zones, these problems multiply ten-fold, with issues relating to trauma frequently at the top of the list.
Veterans are extremely vulnerable to:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Military Sexual Trauma (MST)
Each of these disorders makes the individual more vulnerable to substance use and substance abuse, by changing how people respond to stress, forcing individuals to create (often unhealthy) coping mechanisms.
Drug Use and PTSD – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs shows that 30.9% of male veterans and 26.9% of female veterans are diagnosed with PTSD during or after service. PTSD heavily corelates to an increased risk and vulnerability to drug abuse, with 2 out of every 10 veterans with PTSD suffering from a co-occurring substance use disorder. In addition, veterans with PTSD are more likely to binge drink (86% versus 48% of all veterans), more likely to self-medicate, and more than double the likelihood to abuse another substance.
Self-Medication – Military service exacerbates self-medication, because it often puts individuals in situations where they have to be extremely self-reliant, appear or be tough, and largely get through on their own. This increases instances of self-medication, where veterans are more likely to deal with stress, physical pain, and mental health problems by using medication. As a result, veterans are more likely to binge drink (48% do), more likely to abuse prescription medication by taking more of it or in different ways than prescribed, and more likely to seek out substances such as opioids to manage problems.
Homelessness – Homelessness is not a unique problem, but it is an issue that veterans face in disproportion to the general population. In fact, 21% of all veterans seeking substance use rehabilitation are homeless. While substance use disorder greatly contributes to the chance of homelessness, homelessness contributes to substance use disorder. And issues like depression, PTSD, anxiety, and missing the life skills to maintain a “normal” life contribute to homelessness. Individuals who have lost their home, who cannot afford a place to live, or who are otherwise living in a temporary place such as a car or park are significantly more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.
If you or a loved one served in the military, your risk of developing a substance use disorder is somewhere between two and three times greater than that of the average person. If you think you’re struggling, there are plenty of avenues and resources to seek help.
Seeking Drug Rehab through a VA Hospital
As a veteran, you have the opportunity to qualify for either outpatient or inpatient drug rehab at any VA hospital. Doing so means meeting specific requirements such as not having been discharged dishonorably, being willing to wait for spaces in the program to open up, and being willing to travel to and from the hospital.
You can check if you qualify using the easy assessment on Benefits.com or by checking your Basic Medical Benefits Package for Veterans. Here, you stand the most chance of being helped in a timely manner if you fall into a priority group 1-3, such as having a VA disability rating, POW, or have been awarded a Medal of Honor or Purple Heart. Otherwise, you will fall into a longer wait period.
The VA hospital program offers 96+ various treatment solutions across the United States. These are excellent resources for veterans, who can receive quality, and typically completely free medical care. This includes psychological treatment, medical detox, ongoing clinical care, and often, movement into aftercare facilities.
However, VA hospitals struggle with issues pertaining to a shortage of beds, overcrowded facilities, and long screening times. Most patients who qualify for drug rehab through a VA program still wait up to 16 days before admission.
Drug Rehab in Private Clinics or Residential Facilities
Individuals who need care more quickly, who want to benefit from more space, and who need more time to recover typically benefit from seeking out a private clinic or residential rehab facility. While more expensive, these facilities are often covered by insurance (although not always fully). It’s important to review your insurance, budget, and the facility before proceeding.
For those who choose to seek out drug rehab in a private facility, it’s important to seek out a program specialized in military substance abuse treatment. Persons with military history have vastly different backgrounds and psychological needs than a civilian, and this must be reflected in the program. A good drug treatment program for veterans will include:
- Dual-Diagnosis treatment to support patients with PTSD and depression
- Family therapy
- Trauma counseling
- Military groups treated together, so that you can identify with your peers
- Behavioral therapy such as CBT or EDMR
- Group counseling
- Complimentary therapies
Private clinics can remove individuals from situations of high stress and put them into an environment where all they have to do is recover. This can be immensely helpful, especially when followed up by periods in sober or halfway houses, giving individuals the space to fully recover.
Drug Rehab with Tricare Insurance – 4.6 million veterans utilize Tricare insurance, which offers complete insurance to individuals for $282.6 per year and family insurance for $565.20. As one of the largest suppliers of veteran-based insurance, it’s important that any program you seek out accept Tricare. While exact coverage will depend on which Tricare branch you use, as well as your package, Tricare officially covers most aspects of residential and outpatient substance use disorder treatment. Click here to see their official coverage or contact the provider for more information.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, it’s important to get help. Whether that help is from your local VA or a private clinic should depend on your insurance, family’s economic situation, and opportunities. Please contact Beginnings Treatment Centers today for an honest talk about addiction or alcoholism with one of our experienced and professional addiction treatment team. We’re here to help.