Text us

Substance Abuse in Veterans

Text us
The graphic explains veterans' treatment options for substance abuse and PTSD.

Substance abuse in veterans is a severe problem in the United States. Veterans suffering from addiction often display a drastic personality change. The change may be triggered by traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, or physical pain. This can be very distressing for family members who may be worried that their loved one is losing their mind.

Substance abuse among veterans affects the entire family. A veteran who becomes a drug addict may develop violent tendencies towards themselves or others. Without treatment, their behavior will only worsen. Fortunately, there are many treatment options for veterans through The Recovery Team, established in 1995 in Delray Beach, South Florida. We offer inpatient and outpatient programs to help veterans overcome these issues.

Substance Abuse and PTSD

Substance abuse among veterans is a growing national issue. Substance abuse in veterans is often linked to PTSD. The number of veterans with substance use disorder is much higher than the rate for civilians. Approximately 1 in 10 veterans treated at The Recovery Team after returning from war has substance abuse problems. Substance abuse is often associated with PTSD. One-third of all soldiers diagnosed with substance abuse have co-occurring PTSD. In addition, binge drinking among veterans with PTSD is a common issue.

This disorder causes many veterans to turn to substances, such as alcohol or drugs, to relieve their pain. However, if left untreated, it can lead to severe psychological problems. According to research, about one in 10 veterans have a substance use disorder.

Substance abuse among veterans can be caused by various factors, including traumatic stress, emotional struggles, and chronic pain. Many veterans have PTSD, a debilitating mental health disorder caused by experiencing wartime trauma. Substance abuse can only exacerbate these symptoms. Treatment programs for veterans can help them overcome the challenges they face.

Veterans with PTSD

The veteran community is among the highest-risk demographics for PTSD and addiction. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, PTSD is frequently identified in veterans seeking SUD treatment. Combat’s emotional distress, physical demand, and mental strain are most likely to blame for this. Military persons who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are more likely to develop PTSD.

Veterans who experienced sexual assault or harassment while serving in the military also have PTSD. Any service member, regardless of gender, may experience trauma while serving in the military. Sexual assault, sexual abuse, or sexual harassment are all types of sexual trauma—approximately one in five female veterans.

Veterans with PTSD struggle will face both symptoms of drug abuse and PTSD. Though most people who experience a traumatic event can cope and adjust, individuals with PTSD can struggle for three months or longer. Additionally, many of these individuals also struggle to re-enter civilian life because of the effects of drug and alcohol use.

Signs of PTSD

You will see the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in your daily life. The symptoms typically appear within the first month following a severe occurrence.

However, in some cases, symptoms can not start to manifest for months or even years. Some people with PTSD go through lengthy periods during which their signs are less evident, followed by intervals during which they worsen. Some people experience severe symptoms all the time. Although the specific PTSD symptoms might vary significantly from person to person, they typically fall into the categories listed below.


The most prevalent symptom of PTSD is re-experiencing. This occurs when a person uncontrollably and vividly recalls the terrible incident as:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Physical feelings, including discomfort, sweating, feeling nauseous, or shaking.

Other Problems

Veterans with PTSD have several other problems, including:

  • Avoidance
  • Emotional numbing
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Severe headache
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pains
  • Stomach aches
  • Sleeping disorder
  • Irritability
  • Angry outbursts
  • Low problem-solving skills
  • Difficulty in concentration
  • Intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event

You may qualify for compensation if you’re a veteran with these disorders. But you must get a doctor’s opinion before filing a claim. It would help if you got a medical evaluation to determine the extent of the disorder, as well as a mental health evaluation to determine which condition was the cause of the substance abuse.

Alcohol and Illicit Drugs in the Military

Alcohol is the most common substance abused by veterans, and many use it to cope with a mental illness. Unfortunately, alcohol is a temporary solution that makes mental illness symptoms worse. Similarly, combat-related injuries often require prescription medications, such as opioids. This can result in chemical dependence, leading to pill addiction and heroin use.


It can relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses but also has addictive effects. Opioids, commonly prescribed for combat-related injuries, are also highly addictive. Individuals with risk factors for developing addiction can become chemically dependent on these medications, which may lead to a relapse.

Illicit Drug Abuse

While alcoholism is one of the veterans’ most common problems, illicit drug abuse is another common issue. Many veterans use substances as a way to cope with stress or trauma. A recent study found that veterans who abused high-dose opioid painkillers were twice as likely to commit suicide. Because the withdrawal symptoms associated with withdrawal can be life-threatening, it’s essential to help these veterans quit substances.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends that treatment for co-occurring disorders address both simultaneously. This approach usually includes behavioral therapies and medication. This guide provides information about substance use disorders and co-occurring mental disorders, including the signs and symptoms of each. According to the SAMHSA, about 20% of people with substance use disorders also have a co-occurring mental illness.

Symptoms of these disorders are similar. For example, those with PTSD are more likely to develop substance abuse problems. Their eating, sleeping, and activity patterns may change. They may also stop participating in activities that were once important to them. Their moods may also change dramatically. They may become irritable, depressed, or have thoughts of suicide.

Several risk factors can lead to co-occurring disorders: Genetics, environmental factors, and trauma all increase the likelihood of someone having multiple mental health conditions. Additionally, the person may experience a history of substance abuse as a coping mechanism, masking or escalating their symptoms.

Despite our best efforts to reduce the problematic use of drugs and alcohol among veterans, their rates continue to rise. Many treatment options are available for these veterans, including pharmacological and behavioral therapies. The VA’s website on substance abuse in veterans has more information on substance use and treatment for veterans.

Treatment Options for Veterans

Veterans are more likely to suffer from substance abuse or PTSD, a disorder often triggered by a traumatic event. These experiences often lead to drug or alcohol use and self-medication, which can worsen the symptoms. Getting professional help is crucial to ensure the recovery of these veterans.

Treatment programs should include a holistic approach to addiction and PTSD. These programs will assess symptoms and address them concurrently. They should also incorporate trauma theory and a core curriculum. These programs prefer the unique needs of veterans and first responders. For instance, they will provide trauma-focused care to treat substance abuse that results from job stress and the effects of military service.

Integrated Addiction and Mental Health Treatment

Integrated addiction and mental health treatment for veterans is a growing field in The Recovery Team. This healthcare system is one of the nation’s largest substance abuse treatment providers. Veterans often present with co-occurring disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Although research has been limited, dual diagnosis treatment is gaining more recognition. Our residential treatment programs are dedicated to concurrently treating mental health and addiction disorders.

Integrated addiction and mental health treatment for substance use veterans are more effective than a treatment model focusing on just one disorder. Our evidence-based and more comprehensive programs that address both aspects of the problem may be the best choice.

Outpatient Treatment

If you’re a veteran suffering from substance abuse, outpatient treatment can offer you the same quality of care as inpatient rehab. Outpatient treatment for substance abuse veterans offers group sessions, case management, vocational services, and other services to address your specific needs. 

You’ll work with trained staff during the treatment process to develop a personalized treatment plan and prepare for going home.

Outpatient treatment is available in The Recovery Team. Veterans may also choose to go to our residential treatment for 24-hour screenings and diagnosis. 

Our medical counselor may also refer them to another treatment program for substance abuse. It’s essential to check the eligibility requirements for your particular program.

Inpatient Treatment Program

Our inpatient treatment aims to stabilize a patient and create a foundation for recovery. It requires intense engagement from the patient and their treatment team. The aftercare plan is tailored to the individual, and the doctors’ team comprises addiction specialists with various specialties. Veterans are monitored 24/7 hours during the treatment process of our inpatient or residential plan.

Therapy programs to Overcome PTSD or Anxiety

Treatment therapies for substance abuse veterans focus on co-occurring mental health disorders. The veterans may have PTSD or anxiety, and it is vital to address these issues along with substance use disorder.

12-Step Program

Alternative therapies such as 12-step facilitation and physical and nutritional therapy can also be used. Our treatment programs will provide a comprehensive history and psychosocial assessment of the patient before they start treatment.

Group Therapy

Veterans may have preferences that affect the type of treatment they receive. Some may benefit from group therapy with other veterans. Others may prefer group therapy with women. While there isn’t a proven benefit to a particular mix of group members, accommodating individual preferences may improve treatment outcomes.

Individual Therapy

Veterans may also pursue treatment outside the rehab center, like therapy programs. Individual therapy is a critical part of substance abuse treatment for veterans. During therapy, veterans are taught skills to deal with the triggers that may cause a relapse. Additionally, they are educated about the nature of addiction and how to communicate effectively with their families. The program may also connect them to support groups to provide emotional support.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What percentage of veterans suffer from substance abuse?

Numbers on Veteran Substance Abuse Approximately 7% of the 1.1 million veterans experience both. Active military members are also affected by substance use disorder, so it’s not just a problem for veterans.

Does VA pay for substance abuse treatment?

Fortunately, VA insurance covers treatment for co-occurring illnesses like substance misuse and mental illness. All long-term health insurance plans must include coverage for substance addiction and mental health treatment by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yes. VA pays for drug and alcohol rehab treatment.

Overcome Addiction With Help From the Recovery Team 

Veterans who serve in the armed forces face unique challenges when it comes to addiction and substance abuse. Among these are the traumatic experiences and long-term effects of war. Many veterans return home with permanent injuries, including brain injuries that affect their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Some veterans seek medication to treat their symptoms, while others may use substances like alcohol and drugs to cope with the pain.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that nearly one in ten veterans will have a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. PTSD and substance abuse are two of the most common issues veterans face, and these problems must be addressed to keep veterans healthy. 

Our home-like treatment centers specialize in substance abuse and offer resources for these individuals. Get more information about our veteran treatment services by calling our confidential counselor at (800) 817-1247.