Veterans and Substance Use Disorders

Stress. Isolation. Trauma. All these factors have some correlative connection to the development of substance use disorders. For veterans then, who experience high levels of all these issues, it is not surprising that substance use disorders crop up with unfortunate regularity. In honor of our country’s armed forces this Independence Day, we wanted to take an honest look at substance use disorders among veterans, as well as how recovery can be achieved.

Lack of protective factors

One topic we’ve addressed previously is the bio-psycho-social model of substance misuse, which states that certain life elements provide protective factors, and likewise, that certain life experiences, physical issues, and mental illness increase an individual’s likelihood of developing a substance use disorder.  Many of these problematic issues arise during active service, such as serious physical injuries, death or seeing injuries of compatriots, long-term separation from loved ones, and the resultant mental illness such as major depressive disorder or PTSD.  All the branches of the armed forces do make efforts to provide counseling to active servicemen and women, and treatment is available through the VA after active service has ended. Nevertheless, many veterans are still suffering, often worsened by housing and workplace insecurity.

Pathways to help

In addition to the assistance offered nationally by the VA, substance use disorder treatment programs specifically designed for veterans are now more widely available, encompassing long-term inpatient, intensive out-patient, and traditional out-patient options. Many programs incorporate either canine or equine therapies, allowing veterans to process their underlying issues without the perceptions of judgement of another person. Because substance use disorders are about more than simple substance misuse, treatment must address physiological and emotional health, alongside physical wellbeing, in order for veterans to truly see long-term abstinence and recovery. Feelings of shame and guilt sometimes accompany substance use disorders in veterans, with an unwillingness to destroy heroic images. However, with empathy from family and friends, connections to other veterans experiencing similar issues, honesty and patience, many veterans have years and decades in recovery!

Many veterans choose to return to school when they’re able, to learn a new trade or simply expand their knowledge base.  The Ammon Foundation believes academic opportunities should be available to all people in recovery from substance use disorders and provides scholarships of financial assistance assist those goals. Please visit our blog to learn more!