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Veterans With PTSD and Addiction

Our veterans are national treasures. These brave individuals have devoted their careers to helping our country remain a safe and free nation. Yet many of our veterans have been exposed to traumatic events that have left them emotionally wounded.

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Holistic Addiction Treatment for Veterans

By Patty Bell, Interventionist and Family Relations Manager at Capo by the Sea

Image Licensed by Adobe Stock

As a result, many of our proud service men and women struggle with trauma-related disabilities. These may be in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a traumatic brain injury.

As happens often among the civilian population, trauma can lead to coping practices that are harmful to them. In particular, drugs and/or alcohol are often used to self-medicate emotional pain. When this is the case, a substance use disorder can possibly develop.

There are rehab programs specially equipped to help our vets. These are dual diagnosis rehabs that treat both the trauma and the addiction at the same time, and accept Tricare. Science has shown that addressing both disorders together nets the best recovery results. Adding holistic addiction treatment is the perfect fit for veterans with this dual diagnosis. Holistic treatment emphasizes stress-reduction and mindfulness, both excellent recovery tools when combined with other treatment elements.

Exposure to Trauma

When we think about PTSD we tend to assume it is military related. The fact is that anyone can suffer a trauma. Any exposure to a shocking, frightening, and unexpected event can leave someone with deep emotional wounds.

So what are some examples of traumatic events? Consider the following:

  • Military combat 
  • Natural disaster
  • Serious accident
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Serious illness or injury
  • Witnessing violence
  • Sudden unexpected death of a loved one

When we experience a trauma a cascade of brain chemicals can flood the brain. This is known as the fight or flight response. These stress chemicals cause us to then feel the effects of what we are seeing or experiencing. Symptoms of fear and helplessness lead to:

  • Racing heart
  • Sweating
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Fainting

Most people who experience trauma will resolve their symptoms or fear in a timely way. Some, however, may still experience the distress weeks or months later.

About PTSD

When someone who witnessed or experienced a highly disturbing event does not find resolution after a month of symptoms, the trauma is then called PTSD. A trauma usually results in gradual healing from the event, not so with PTSD. PTSD involves impairment in daily life due to the symptoms that still haunt the person. Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Intrusive thoughts. Unwanted memories or thoughts about the trauma are experienced repeatedly with flashbacks, vivid memories, or nightmares.
  • Avoidance. Trying not to trigger the emotions of a past trauma, the person will avoid things. This includes people, situations, or places that might remind them of the disturbing memory. 
  • Hyper-arousal. The individual will be jumpy and easily irritated. They may be angry, easily startled, and may suffer from insomnia. Substance abuse may be used to self-medicate these anxiety symptoms.
  • Negative thoughts. People suffering from PTSD may feel hopeless and have a negative attitude. They might talk down about themselves. They may exhibit negative emotions like guilt, shame, and fear. They may struggle with their relationships.

Holistic addiction treatment programs are the perfect solution for veterans with both PTSD and addiction.

How Trauma Symptoms Can Lead to Addiction

One of the most common after effects tied to PTSD is substance abuse. When you feel stressed out or depressed after a traumatic event it is understandable that drugs or alcohol might help—at least at first. These substances can help take the edge off and soften some of the mental pain after a trauma. This is referred to as self-medicating.

The problem is, soon the substance can turn on you. This happens when you become more tolerant to the effects of the drug or alcohol. You still want and need to feel relief from emotional pain, so you begin to use more of it. With time, the brain begins to demand even more and chemical dependence can take hold.

Treatment Options for Veterans with Substance Use Disorder

When someone who has served our country develops a substance problem they need to get professional help. Ignoring the signs of addiction will only let the problem grow worse as time goes on. Some basic signs of addiction include:

  • Trying to cut back and can’t
  • Obsessing about using drugs or alcohol
  • Lying to others about the substance problem
  • Getting drugs and alcohol in sometimes illicit ways
  • Avoiding friends and family
  • Hiding the substance from others
  • Not fulfilling responsibilities
  • Increased tolerance to the effects of the substance
  • Withdrawal symptoms when substance not available

Treatment choices come in two basic formats, outpatient or residential rehab. The outpatient rehab is good for people who can’t take a leave of absence or have family responsibilities. It allows the veteran to remain at home or go to work outside of treatment hours. The residential rehab option has on-site housing for the veteran. The residential program is more intensive and comprehensive for vets with dual diagnosis.

Integrated Treatment for PTSD and Co-Occurring Addiction

Treatment for individuals with both PTSD and addiction will include a variety of elements. These are designed to work together for helping the person make real changes in their daily lives. 

Evidence-based treatment. These treatments will include one-on-one therapy sessions, group therapy sessions, and family therapy. For treating the addiction, recovery programs like 12-step or SMART are very helpful as a roadmap to sobriety.

Holistic Addiction Treatment. Holistic therapies provide coping skills for managing stress. These include yoga, mindfulness meditation, art therapy, and massage.

Tricare Covered Rehab Centers

Fortunately, rehabs now accept Tricare insurance that covers treatment expenses for veterans. Tricare is the health insurance plan for active military, their family members, and veterans. The rehabs that take Tricare provide the full spectrum of care, from detox to rehabilitation to holistic treatment. Tricare coverage is an important tool in getting a beloved veteran into treatment.

About the Author

Patty Bell is part of the Capo by the Sea and Solutions 4 Recovery family. These two pet-friendly addiction and dual diagnosis treatment programs are located in South Orange County, California. Patty strives to offer essential detox and residential rehab resources for veterans needing treatment for drug or alcohol addiction. Capo by the Sea and Solutions 4 Recovery accept Tricare insurance and welcome our treasured veterans to our evidence-based program.

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