Alcohol Treatment for Veterans

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Alcohol treatment for veterans

There are times in our lives when we all need support and care. The military experience is one of those times. Sadly, the combat they faced overseas wasn't the only battle they've experienced for many veterans. They may also be struggling with posttraumatic stress as well as substance abuse.  

Alcohol abuse has never ceased in our culture since time immemorial, but a steady decline has been noted lately. However, recent research shows, third days in a year of the military are spent on alcohol drug addictions.

It is contrary to civilian life who pay less than a fourth of their time drinking alcohol . (1) 

Also, according to the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), one-third possibly have a drinking issue, a rate still higher than the civilians. 

So, what can we do to help military personnel with alcohol addiction?  

Alcohol has been a problem for many veterans and armed forces and getting a handle on it is by offering quality mental health treatment to stop further alcohol abuse and drug addictions.

However, only a small percentage get to have the right treatment. Yet, there are new treatment options with professional help for those battling alcohol use disorder and substance abuse issues.  

The programs focus on individuals and offer a holistic approach to their addiction problem. And best of all, there are free ones for any veteran who need them.  

If you know anyone struggling with substance abuse, please don't hesitate to ask them if they would like to talk to someone about it. 

There's much to find out on alcohol treatment for veterans. Keep reading! 

Causes of alcohol abuse in veterans 

Veterans and armed forces are at an increased risk for heavy drinking. Studies show that veterans have an elevated prevalence of approximately 20% for binge drinking, five or more alcoholic beverages in a single instance. This is an incomparable rate to civilian equivalents. (2) 

But what could be the reason? Veterans from a military deployment face some challenges that contribute to their alcohol issues. Adjusting to everyday life is merely one of the many concerns.  

Questionably, the biggest problem could be enduring traumas from the service. It could be experiencing the death of colleagues, sexual harassment, and other severe injuries.

In fact, from a 2015 Health-Related Survey report, military individuals with a high combat exposure tend to be heavy drinkers. 1 in 3 of the members are binge drinkers. (3) 

In addition, a study in the correlation of combat with alcohol misuse found that 25% of the military deployed for infantry had the problem of alcoholism. And among them, 12% had behavioural issues from illicit drugs. (4) 

Another challenge is the halt in career life. One of the most important aspects of a veteran's life is their career, and often their career doesn't stop when their service does.

So, the availability of a job post-service is traumatizing. It can lead to a veteran or military personnel feeling stagnant, frustrated, and disappointed.  

Another cause of veterans becoming dependent on alcohol is the proximity to alcohol while deployed. Many of the military restaurants and bars have discounts on alcoholic beverages for the service members.

And that’s how a drinking habit is nurtured. It’s even common to find active service members of the military with prevalent AUD. 

This shows the cause of alcoholism in veterans started from their work and went on long after. 

And that's why the National Survey on Drug Use and Health proves that alcohol and drug abuse is very high in veterans than in civilians. Besides, addiction programs for veterans show alcohol as the root cause of addiction (5). 

Veterans and substance abuse  

Substance abuse is so common in veterans. And the widespread abuse is alcoholic beverages. This abuse begins as a harmless behaviour, given that it has been the norm for militaries to drink in groups.

Slowly, as some drink to fit in and relax their nerves, the habit progresses to what may be termed as alcohol and drug addiction.  

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women of any age and up to two drinks per day for men who are 51 or older. Drinking more than this is considered binge drinking.  

Many binge drinkers have ended up with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and mental health issues and most are in military service.

Most people think it is a condition strictly affecting veterans, but it can affect anyone exposed to an extreme life event.  

You can imagine six men out of ten, and five women out of 10 savour one traumatic event. Yet, the militia and veterans experience more than regular exposure to trauma.

And veterans’ alcohol problem is not only in male veterans, but female veterans too. However, statistics for female veterans are very low. 

But you may be wondering what PTSD is; let’s find out! 

What is Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? 

PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a condition that can affect people who have experienced traumatic events. PTSD can develop immediately after the event, or it may occur months or years later.

The National Institute of Mental Health defines PTSD as “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to stressful events such as assaults, disasters, and war.”  

Events that can lead to post traumatic stress disorder:  

  • Combat exposure 
  • Road accidents  
  • Major fires 
  • Earthquakes  
  • Major accidents 
  • Assaults 
  • Natural or human-caused disasters  
  • Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic situation in person 

Close to 7% of the world's population is in some stage of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Though PTSD can affect anyone, the majority of people affected are young men. 

The statistics show a link between PTSD and alcoholism; about 20% of veterans with PTSD also meet alcohol dependence criteria. Alcohol abuse is much more common in people with PTSD because it is much more difficult to control their emotions.  

Mental health professionals suggest that PTSD causes people to drink to forget and numb the pain and memories associated with posttraumatic stress disorder.

These memories and emotions can feel uncontrollable and traumatic and may lead to alcohol abuse. And alcohol helps to control their feelings or to help them cope with what they are feeling.  

People with PTSD are much more likely to have addiction problems in general, so it is essential for their partners, family members, and the people caring for them to understand what they are dealing with.  

For this reason, the RDoC study emphasizes the importance of integrating interventions that address both PTSD and alcohol abuse. (6)

And this is something that mental health professionals and treatment providers have been trying to unlock for years.  

PTSD signs in veterans 

Many soldiers who survived the Vietnam War and subsequent wars have experienced posttraumatic stress disorder. The experience can arise after a first-time or repeated traumatic events.

It is marked by intense fear, horror, helplessness and at times mental health disorders.  

There are many symptoms for traumatic stress disorder PTSD. But four main clusters will be talked about according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

However, they differ accordingly. While some signs may emerge immediately after, some may take years to be noticed without a time frame. For that reason, symptoms appear and disappear.  

And so long as these signs and symptoms take time, for instance, a week or so, and you have shown signs of difficulties, then PTSD could be the issue. 

So are the four signs are intrusive memories, the second dysphoria, disturbed and the last being avoidance.  

Intrusive memories  

This is where veterans may have trouble sleeping or maintaining a healthy appetite.

This is because the veteran will experience these memories often and relieve the events interrupting their life. You may experience nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety that take you through the events once more.  

Or specific reactions to triggers like loud noises, smell, or news reports causing you to relive the trauma.  

Dysphoria 

Dysphoria is where veterans will have feelings of extreme depression and negative beliefs about themselves.

This can be easily seen if veterans start to drink more, become more isolated, or if they self-harm than before combat. You’ll realize they keep off from relations and have no optimistic or affectionate feelings towards others. 

Besides, they are always putting effort to keep the trauma behind their backs and may not be talking about it. Fear is seen among them, and they feel no place is safe for them; hence may not trust nor depend on anyone. 

Avoidance 

Avoidance is where the veteran or the military service members persistently avoids things or activities that might trigger memories of the event.

You’ll notice you avoid people, situations like films and movies, or places that trigger memories. Also, you may be keeping yourself engrossed to work to avoid thinking about it and seeking help. 

Disturbed 

You may find yourself unable to remain calm, you have a problem concentrating, you have no sleep, or you're easily alarmed by any loud sounds like sirens and fearing the "sound of fireworks and thunder." 

Apart from the four, PTSD can have various effects on the sufferer. It can cause someone to develop depression, anxiety, and irritability.

They may feel sad, have chronic pain, not maintain work, or increase marriage fights leading to divorce. And they may even engage in other substance abuse like illicit drugs. 

If professional treatment advice is not sought, the individuals may develop Substance Use Disorder (SUD). 

PTSD statistics in war veterans 

Did you know that PTSD is prevalent in U.S. veterans than in the U.K.? Kings Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR) revealed that PTSD rates had a 4% prevalence in individuals deployed while 6% in combat troops. (7) This is very low as compared to U.S. veterans.  

In the U.S., the number of veterans that develop PTSD is not always the same. It varies with service.

But the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states that in Gulf wars, about 11 to 20 members from a sample of 100 get PTSD in a year. And 12-15 from 100 in the Gulf and Vietnam wars already have had PTSD. 

Also, the fraction of veterans with PTSD was close to 13.5 % during an Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) period in 2014. (8) 

Because PTSD is challenging to treat and very hard to deal with, many people, especially veterans in the U.S., engage in drinking alcohol to calm down.

Besides, about 20% of all veterans in the Army forces and Marine Corps have a dual diagnosis, PTSD, and AUD from self-medication. (9)

Others may also show mental health issues, substance abuse, and other physical pain and health issues from the trauma post-military service. 

Remember, it's worse when one has a dual diagnosis. So, do you know of someone suffering from both? They can seek treatment providers in an alcohol rehab available near you. It's possible to recover, remember! 

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Alcohol and drug abuse disorder treatment  

Alcohol drug use is socially and culturally acceptable and is most frequently consumed in low-risk ways. However, many people like to drink for the wrong reasons and make the decision to drink excessively.

Misuse of alcohol worsen your general condition and you may start experiencing physical fatigue.  

The two disorders brought about by alcohol and substance abuse are PTSD and AUD and they affect the lives of many people around the world. While you can treat PTSD with prescription drugs, it is much more challenging to treat AUD.

Thankfully, many treatment providers are offering addiction treatment to those who are suffering from both drug and alcohol abuse disorders in alcohol rehab. 

As mentioned, PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic concern. Exposure to violence, fear, traumatic brain injury, terror or even military sexual trauma can trigger PTSD.

Symptoms include having flashbacks to the event, not sleeping properly, and feeling overcome by fear and anxiety. Due to the seriousness of every PTSD symptom, it is essential to seek treatment options as soon as possible.  

Well, there are some addiction treatments to combat drug abuse in veterans. The approaches are evidence-based and approved by American Addiction Center.

So, an appropriate intervention would be to screen every veteran suffering from PTSD and in all people attending AUD treatment centres for specific treatment centre listing.  

Post- trauma-informed care 

The progress of combating alcoholism in veterans suffering has been slow with the prevalence of the disorder.

Still, with implementing a trauma-informed care approach in the military, the rate is projected to decrease in the next ten years.

Trauma-informed care is a practical approach in combating drug and alcohol abuse symptoms in veterans or combats in active duty. 

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network defines Trauma-informed care as a specific approach "made by service providers from many disciplines to understand and respond to the specific needs of populations who have experienced trauma," which contributes to a reduction in PTSD in veterans.  

The Department of Veterans Affairs also defines trauma-informed care as "an approach to care that provides a coherent and responsive whole-person perspective.” 

Therefore, it is a mental health care approach that treats the person as a whole, considering their trauma or history of trauma. It focuses on basic needs, strengths, and autonomy.

Patients are treated with increased understanding and increased empathy due to the psychological trauma they have experienced. More so, they’re taught new coping skills to help them manage their physical symptoms. 

And so, the therapies involved are: trauma-based psychotherapy, prolonged exposure therapy (P.E.), and cognitive processing therapy (CPT). 

Find them at a specific treatment provider or treatment facility for active-duty service members in military and other veterans. 

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network is a non-profit organization that supports children and adults who have experienced trauma with mental health conditions.

They are a treatment provider for addiction treatment, consultation services, and program evaluations, as well as other organizational development. 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) 

Therapy and prescription medications.  

Alcohol abuse has long been acknowledged as a contributing factor to the onset of PTSD and other substance use disorders, but CBT is also vital to treat PTSD and to curb PTSD symptoms.  

This therapy focuses on teaching the person to think about things in a new way to change their behaviour. It also addresses the emotional distress and mental health condition that the person may be feeling when they are in crisis. 

Many therapists believe that CBT should wait until after the veteran has finished medical treatment for PTSD and PTSD-related depression.

But the best approach would be that CBT should take place simultaneously as treating PTSD-related depression and mental health conditions for perfect outcomes. 

Prolonged exposure therapy 

It may not be easy to receive the help you need, especially regarding alcohol and PTSD as a veteran. But veterans who experience alcohol abuse and addiction, as well as those who have PTSD, may want to explore Prolonged Exposure therapy.  

Prolonged Exposure therapy can be a valuable part of your recovery from addiction or a traumatic brain injury.

It is a form of psychotherapy that produces long-term results by exposing a person to a traumatic event through a series of imagination exercises.  

A study done by the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that this form of therapy has significantly reduced alcohol use for up to a year. It has reduced the drinking and PTSD both in the short term and the long term. (10) 

This therapy aims to help veterans re-experience the trauma leading up to and during their war experiences and to get out of their minds and into their bodies.  

Veterans who undergo this treatment will be given a safe space to explore and experience their memories, be guided by a therapist, and provide prompts and tools to process and analyse their past.  

The treatment primarily focuses on relaxation and mindfulness techniques. Veterans can find comfort in these practices and establish a sense of safety.

Trauma is a difficult hurdle to overcome, but prolonged exposure therapy is an excellent way for veterans to come out strong. 

Cognitive processing therapy 

A relatively new treatment called cognitive processing therapy is advantageous to veterans with alcohol disorders and PTSD.  

Providing care for veterans who suffer from alcoholism and PTSD is difficult; according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 15% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD.  

However, previous research has shown that Cognitive Processing Therapy is successful in treating veterans with PTSD. And the Veterans Administration Health Services (V.A.) provides Cognitive Processing Therapy to veterans who have PTSD.  

This therapy helps veterans learn how to better manage intrusive thoughts and memories by teaching coping skills.  

Why? Well, the approach includes a therapeutic process called problem-solving. This program helps patients identify their negative thoughts and then modify them into more realistic and positive ones.  

In turn, this change should decrease the severity of PTSD symptomology. In conclusion, this technique may reduce success rates for alcohol co-occurring disorders and PTSD! 

Medication/ prescription drug abuse 

The treatment of alcoholism may be prolonged, expensive, and hard to maintain. For the veterans and others in armed forces, it may be best to consider pharmacological therapies.

Pharmacological treatments can be one of the most promising solutions for veterans with PTSD and alcoholism or post traumatic stress..  

The drugs are designed to alleviate the symptoms of both disorders, reducing the severity of withdrawal symptoms and increasing the success rate of sobriety. Some medications are currently available. 

The VA offers pharmacological treatment for veterans with PTSD and alcohol addiction. This treatment includes prescription drugs that provide relief from symptoms of withdrawal.

These drugs are often prescribed in an alcohol rehab for short-term use to avoid addiction or tolerance issues.  

They can be used as treatment options to alcohol to reduce stress during withdrawal or to treat depression. The two most common drugs used are benzodiazepines and antidepressants.

Benzodiazepines are drugs like diazepam, the prescription medication for seizures, and lorazepam, which affects anxiety. These drugs cause sedation and can reduce stress for some patients. 

Antidepressants are paroxetine and sertraline. They are commonly called SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake disorders. (11). 

Other essential alcohol treatments for veterans are: 

  • • Post-deployment battle briefing 
  • • Art therapy treatment programs 
  • • Complementary and alternative practices (CAM) 

Alcohol and substance abuse treatment programmes 

Veterans are eligible for a variety of programs for addiction treatment, including counselling and rehabilitation programs. Many of treatment programme and services are provided at no cost.

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers counselling and rehabilitation programmes for veterans who need an alcohol rehab or necessary assistance to stop drinking. 

Veterans who enrol in the V.A.'s residential alcohol drug rehab program for at least 30 days get a cash stipend to cover their living expenses while in the program.

The VA pays for room and board, psychotherapy, education and work training, and medications. 

Besides counselling and alcohol rehab, the V.A. offers many other programs and services for veterans. 

Veterans and their spouses and eligible dependents can seek treatment freely with counselling services, transportation assistance, and emergency financial assistance. 

The British Armed Forces and the NHS have several support services for veterans struggling with addiction.

You can find some other alcohol rehab at Abbeycare Foundation and treatment centre, Rehab for addiction, etc. they offer specialized care for all veterans with alcohol and drug abuse. 

Or you may seek a certified addiction professional in a residential rehab or treatment facility for individualized special care.

And with the advancement in technology, the specific treatment centre may have a paid advertisers online chat. So, you don't have to worry about communication at any time. 

You may also seek for specific treatment provider to provide medical advice for alcoholism and other co-occurring disorder. Besides, numerous various sites have treatment providers listed. 

Conclusion 

The effects of chronic, long-term alcohol and drug addiction can be some of the hardest to overcome. Drug addiction is debilitating to an individual's mental health and affects the rest of the family members.

It's even worse when veterans have PTSD. The combination of these two diagnoses might cause you serious mental health disorder. 

Furthermore, Veterans on active duty with mental health issues often find it challenging to make a full recovery. Issues such as flashbacks, nightmares, and fear of social situations can make daily life difficult.

The treatment of alcoholism may be prolonged, expensive, and hard to maintain. 

But there are affordable treatment centres and treatment facility for veterans seeking treatment. Most treatment providers listed have holistic therapies for professional treatment.

There's much to gain. There's power in seeking treatment. Don't die in despair, and there's hope for ending alcohol consumption!  

Abbeycare Pricing Bot

Last Updated: February 4, 2022

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Peter also co-authored the new 6th edition of Drugs In Use by Linda Dodds, writing Chapter 15 on Alcohol Related Liver Disease. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.