Substance Use Treatment For Veterans

Discover substance use treatment for veterans. Overcome challenges, find tailored approaches, and hear inspiring recovery stories.

Leora BH Staff
July 10, 2024

Substance Use Challenges for Veterans

Veterans often face unique challenges when it comes to substance use. These challenges can have a significant impact on their lives, affecting various aspects of their well-being. Additionally, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes the importance of providing specialized services to address these challenges and support veterans in their journey towards recovery.

Impact on Veterans' Lives

Substance use challenges can have a profound impact on the lives of veterans. Some of the common effects include:

  • Feeling like a burden: Veterans may experience feelings of guilt or shame related to their substance use, leading to a sense of being a burden on their loved ones or society as a whole.
  • Legal and financial issues: Substance use problems can lead to legal troubles and financial strain, further exacerbating the challenges veterans face.
  • Struggles to stop using substances: Addiction can be a formidable adversary, making it difficult for veterans to stop using substances even when they desire to do so.
  • Relationship problems: Substance use challenges can strain relationships with family, friends, and colleagues, potentially leading to social isolation and a sense of detachment.

Services Provided by the VA

Recognizing the unique needs of veterans, the VA offers a range of services to address substance use problems, providing tailored support to meet individual needs. These services are designed to help veterans overcome unhealthy alcohol use, addiction, and other substance-related challenges.

Veterans can access proven treatment options through the VA, including medication, counseling, therapy, and support for health conditions related to substance use problems. These services aim to address the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of substance use disorders, promoting holistic recovery.

To access these services, veterans can apply for VA health care, which covers the costs of treatment for substance use problems. Veterans who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), or Operation New Dawn (OND) can directly contact their local VA medical center to initiate the process of accessing these services.

By providing comprehensive and specialized care, the VA aims to support veterans in their recovery journey and help them regain control over their lives. It is important for veterans facing substance use challenges to reach out to the VA and explore the available resources and support tailored to their specific needs.

In the next section, we will delve into the various treatment options available to veterans, including medication, counseling, and access to VA health care.

Treatment Options for Veterans

When it comes to addressing substance use problems among veterans, there are various treatment options available. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides a range of services tailored to the specific needs of veterans, from unhealthy alcohol use to life-threatening addiction. Two key treatment options for veterans are medication and counseling, which can be accessed through VA health care.

Medication and Counseling

The VA offers proven medication options, counseling, therapy, and treatment for health conditions related to substance use problems. Medications may be prescribed to help manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, or treat underlying mental health conditions that often co-occur with substance use disorders.

Counseling and therapy play a vital role in helping veterans overcome substance use challenges. Individual counseling sessions provide a safe space for veterans to address their unique experiences and explore the underlying factors contributing to their substance use. Group therapy sessions offer peer support and the opportunity to learn from others who have faced similar struggles. Family therapy may also be available to address the impact of substance use on relationships and facilitate healing within the family unit.

The combination of medication and counseling has shown promising results in helping veterans achieve and maintain recovery. The specific treatment plan will be tailored to the individual needs and preferences of each veteran, ensuring a comprehensive and personalized approach to their recovery journey.

Accessing VA Health Care

Veterans can apply for VA health care to access the services provided for substance use problems. The VA health care program covers a wide range of treatment options, including medication, counseling, therapy, and support for health conditions related to substance use [1]. Veterans who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), or Operation New Dawn (OND) can call their local VA medical center to access services for substance use problems.

It's important to note that even veterans without VA health care benefits still have options available. Community Vet Centers offer free private counseling, alcohol and drug assessment, and other support services, especially for those who have served in combat zones or are homeless. These centers provide a valuable resource for veterans seeking assistance with their substance use challenges.

By accessing VA health care or utilizing community resources, veterans can take the first step toward recovery and receive the necessary support to overcome substance use problems. It's crucial for veterans to be aware of the available treatment options and reach out for help when needed. Recovery is possible, and seeking treatment is a courageous and important decision for veterans on their path to a healthier and happier life.

Co-Occurring PTSD and SUD

For many veterans, the challenges of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorder (SUD) can co-occur, making it essential to address both conditions simultaneously. According to Dr. Ron Acierno, a Clinical Psychologist, treating PTSD and SUD concurrently has been shown to be effective in treating both conditions.

Treating Both Conditions

When it comes to co-occurring PTSD and SUD, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes the importance of integrated treatment that addresses both conditions comprehensively. VA medical centers have SUD-PTSD Specialists who are trained to provide treatment resources for co-occurring PTSD and SUD at every VA medical center [2].

Integrated treatment typically involves a combination of evidence-based therapies and interventions tailored to the specific needs of veterans with co-occurring PTSD and SUD. These treatment approaches may include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a commonly used therapy for individuals with PTSD and SUD. It aims to help individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with both conditions. By addressing both the trauma-related symptoms and substance use, CBT can assist veterans in developing healthier coping mechanisms and reducing substance misuse.
  • Contingency Management (CM): CM is an evidence-based approach that utilizes positive reinforcement to promote abstinence from substances. In the context of co-occurring PTSD and SUD, CM can be effective in motivating veterans to engage in treatment, adhere to medication plans, and reduce substance use [2].

The combination of these and other evidence-based therapies can provide veterans with the tools and support needed to address both PTSD and SUD concurrently. It is important for veterans to reach out to health professionals within the VA system to discuss their concerns, inquire about treatment options, and develop a personalized treatment plan.

Importance of Seeking Help

Seeking help for co-occurring PTSD and SUD is crucial for improving the overall quality of life for veterans. If you suspect that you may have co-occurring PTSD and SUD, it is essential to talk to a health professional who can provide a proper assessment and guide you towards appropriate treatment options. Early intervention and treatment can make a significant difference in managing both conditions and promoting long-term recovery.

It's important to remember that experiencing symptoms of PTSD for more than three months following a traumatic event may be an indication of the disorder. By seeking treatment and discussing concerns about substance use with a health professional, veterans can receive the necessary care and support for co-occurring PTSD and SUD. The VA is committed to providing comprehensive and integrated treatment resources to address the unique needs of veterans with co-occurring conditions.

Statistics and Rates Among Veterans

Understanding the prevalence of substance use disorders (SUDs) among veterans is crucial for developing effective treatment strategies. Veterans face unique challenges that can contribute to a higher risk of developing SUDs. In this section, we will explore the prevalence of SUDs among veterans and the rates of illicit drug use within this population.

Prevalence of SUDs

Research shows that more than one in ten veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, slightly higher than the general population. Among veterans presenting for first-time care within the VA health care system, approximately 11% meet criteria for a diagnosis of Substance Use Disorder (SUD). It is important to note that the prevalence of SUDs can vary depending on factors such as age, gender, and marital status.

Alcohol and drug use disorder diagnoses are more common among male veterans than female veterans, and more common among non-married and younger veterans. When examining the pattern for male veterans aged 18–25 years, rates of SUDs were higher compared to civilians in the same age group.

Rates of Illicit Drug Use

The rates of illicit drug use among veterans can increase when active duty personnel leave military service. Marijuana accounts for the vast majority of illicit drug use among veterans, with 3.5% reporting marijuana use and 1.7% reporting use of illicit drugs other than marijuana in a 1-month period. It's important to note that these rates may vary depending on factors such as age, deployment history, and other individual characteristics.

From 2002 to 2009, cannabis use disorders increased over 50% among veterans in the VA health care system. This highlights the need for comprehensive substance use treatment programs that address the specific needs of veterans, including co-occurring mental health disorders such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and adjustment disorder.

By understanding the prevalence of SUDs and rates of illicit drug use among veterans, healthcare providers and policymakers can develop targeted interventions and resources to effectively address the unique challenges faced by this population. It is crucial to provide comprehensive and integrated treatment options that consider the specific needs of veterans to ensure successful recovery and improved overall well-being.

Specific Therapies for Veterans

When it comes to substance use treatment for veterans, there are specific therapies that have shown effectiveness in helping them on their path to recovery. Two prominent therapies used are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Contingency Management (CM).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a recommended treatment for veterans struggling with substance use disorders, particularly stimulant use disorder. This evidence-based therapy typically involves six to 14 sessions and focuses on helping veterans build skills to change their unwanted behaviors and achieve their goals.

CBT-SUD (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use Disorders) is a time-limited intervention that teaches veterans how to make and maintain changes in substance use while improving their overall quality of life. This therapy encourages veterans to adopt an active, problem-solving approach to cope with the challenges associated with substance use conditions.

During CBT sessions, veterans work with trained therapists to identify and challenge negative thought patterns and beliefs that contribute to substance use. They learn coping skills to manage cravings, develop strategies to avoid triggers, and cultivate healthier behaviors. Through this therapy, veterans gain a better understanding of their substance use patterns and acquire the tools needed to make lasting changes.

Contingency Management (CM)

Contingency Management (CM) is another evidence-based therapy widely used in the treatment of substance use disorders among veterans. It has shown particular effectiveness for patients misusing stimulants or cannabis. In CM, veterans receive incentives for completing specific recovery behaviors, such as abstinence verified by urine drug screens. The incentives increase in size as veterans consistently demonstrate recovery behaviors.

The goal of CM is to reinforce positive behaviors and motivate veterans to stay engaged in their recovery process. By providing tangible rewards, such as vouchers or privileges, for achieving treatment goals, CM encourages veterans to remain committed to their sobriety. This therapy helps to promote abstinence and provides immediate reinforcement for desired behaviors.

CM is often implemented in conjunction with other therapies, such as CBT, to provide a comprehensive approach to substance use treatment. By combining these evidence-based therapies, veterans have access to valuable tools and support systems that can significantly enhance their chances of successful recovery.

It's important for veterans to work closely with healthcare professionals to determine the most suitable therapy options based on their individual needs and substance use challenges. The VA offers a range of treatment programs and resources to assist veterans in accessing the appropriate therapies for their recovery journey. For more information on substance use treatment options available to veterans, consult the VA Mental Health resources.

In addition to specific therapies like CBT and CM, addressing substance use disorders often requires a holistic approach that takes into account cultural factors and alternative therapies. To learn more about understanding the role of culture in addiction and exploring other treatment options, visit our articles on understanding the role of culture in addiction, holistic therapies in addiction recovery: what works?, and alternative therapies for addiction: effectiveness. It's crucial for veterans to seek help and engage in treatment to improve their overall well-being and quality of life.

Addressing Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder is a significant concern among veterans, with alcohol being the most prevalent substance misused among military personnel. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 65% of veterans who enter a treatment program report alcohol as the substance they most frequently misuse, which is almost double the rate compared to the general population.

Prevalence Among Veterans

Among veterans presenting for first-time care within the VA health care system, approximately 11% meet criteria for a diagnosis of Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Alcohol use disorder is more common among male veterans than female veterans, and it is also more common among non-married and younger veterans.

Intervention Strategies

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has implemented system-wide alcohol screening through Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) to intervene upon risky drinking habits. This approach allows healthcare providers to identify individuals with hazardous or harmful alcohol use and provide appropriate interventions.

Behavioral interventions are commonly used in the management of Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) among veterans. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term intervention that focuses on identifying and modifying maladaptive thoughts and behaviors associated with substance use. This therapy aims to help veterans develop coping strategies and enhance their motivation for change.

In addition to CBT, contingency management (CM) is another therapeutic approach used in the treatment of alcohol use disorder. CM involves providing incentives or rewards to individuals for abstaining from alcohol or meeting treatment goals. This approach can be particularly effective in promoting positive behavior change and reinforcing sobriety.

It's important for veterans struggling with alcohol use disorder to seek help and support. The VA provides a range of services and treatment options for veterans, including counseling, support groups, and medication-assisted treatment. By accessing VA health care, veterans can receive comprehensive care tailored to their specific needs.

Addressing alcohol use disorder among veterans requires a comprehensive approach that considers the unique challenges and experiences they face. By providing effective interventions and support, veterans can overcome alcohol misuse and improve their overall well-being.


Contact Us

Leora Behavioral Health offers a comprehensive addiction treatment program to help you get your life back on track. Our trained professionals will work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that meets your unique needs. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, reach out to Leora Behavioral Health today.

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