Military Service, PTSD, and Addiction: Rediscovering Wholeness

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Military Service, PTSD, and Addiction: Rediscovering Wholeness

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Enduring Freedom (OEF) have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a given year, and about 12% of Gulf War Veterans experience PTSD. It’s been estimated that 30% of Veterans from the Vietnam War experience PTSD – and with the many symptoms that accompany PTSD, such as nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, panic attacks and more, those who have served in the military undergo a significant amount of stress long after their time in service. Substance use disorders (SUDs) are extremely prevalent amongst our military veterans, as so much don’t receive the proper care and support to recover from the horrific events they’re exposed to at war.

Substance Abuse and PTSD

As an underserved population, military veterans must struggle through emotional ups and downs upon return home from war in addition to becoming stabilized in housing, employment and family relations. For many veterans, the loss of identity alongside these major changes taking place are a recipe for substance abuse. Self-medication is so common, as military veterans try to find an outlet to release emotional issues pushed down from societal pressures.

Make the Connection, a website with information on veteran experiences with PTSD and more, published the story of Marco, a radio operator in the U.S. Air Force for more than 20 years. He stated, “It can be a frustrating experience for someone when you’re in the military and making a good living, and then you get out of the military and you’re working for $7 an hour…I went through bouts of depression and drug use.”

A 2017 review published in the journal Substance Abuse Rehabilitation explained that in addition to stressors associated with combat exposure and post-deployment civilian/reintegration challenges, veterans may also be dealing with traumas from childhood and other areas of life before their service in the military. Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) seem to be the most prevalent substance use concern for veterans, and misuse of prescription drugs – such as opioids – are becoming more and more of a concern.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

There are several effective treatment methods for veterans in recovery from SUDs, PTSD, and otherwise co-occurring disorders. This year, researchers from Psychology departments all over the United States came together to publish a study in the journal Addictive Behaviors, which addressed involved 81 military veterans with current SUD and PTSD diagnoses. They found that while severity of each of these conditions can weigh heavily on the type of treatment used for military veterans, integrated treatment can have significantly strong effects on relapse prevention, sobriety maintenance, coping skills and so much more.

For example, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) focuses on past life events with a focus on changing thought processes that trigger uncomfortable emotions. As a holistic form of treatment, EMDR therapy goes through several phases to bring a sense of empowerment to a person. Exposure interventions that target PTSD are very effective for veterans; a 2015 literature review published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review confirmed that psychotherapy alone isn’t the best form of treatment for veterans – exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy were both shown to be even more effective than EMDR for veterans, but with several types of treatment approaches available, a person in recovery is likely to find something that addresses their specific needs.

Another veteran shared his story via Make the Connection, and he explained that having a “no-nonsense” approach in therapy helped him greatly in recovering from the pain of PTSD and addiction. He stated, “They set me up with a psychologist who I pretty much right away got along with. He was no-holds barred, he didn’t take any crap, and he didn’t let me have a pity party. We started with exposure therapy.”

Despite having gone through extreme conditions mentally, physically and spiritually, veterans can find a life of healing and restoration after obtaining support at Avalon Malibu. Far too often, these needs go missed – and without the right education, resources and support on PTSD, self-medication and more, veterans are left with more than they can handle upon their return home.

Restoring the Mind, Body and Spirit

Medications can provide veterans with a safe method of dealing with pain, and close monitoring of a supportive healthcare team can ensure that veterans don’t fall back into the trap of addiction. Psychotherapy, group therapy, 12-Step programs and more can provide structure for individuals ready to tackle their recovery one step at a time, and holistic practices (also known as alternative therapies) can slowly and over time heal some of the psychological wounds that have scarred so many people.

If you’re ready to take a hold on your addiction and PTSD, speak with a professional from Avalon Malibu today. It’s time that you’re taken care of.

Avalon Malibu is a world-renowned, California state-licensed mental health and substance abuse recovery center. If you are ready to seek treatment to develop the tools you need to overcome life’s obstacles and be on the road towards happiness, health, and well-being, call us today at 888-958-7511 for a consultation. It’s never too late, and there are people here ready to help you.

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