Veterans: The Struggle With Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder

Statistics on Veteran Mental Health

Veterans face a unique set of problems after combat. Veteran mental health isn’t like dealing with a regular citizen due to the traumatic nature of their occupation. Depression in veterans is common, among other crippling mental health disorders. 

That is why veterans and substance use disorder centers work together to heal trauma. Drug and alcohol treatment centers understand that their recovery requires an atypical plan. That said, the right substance use disorder center for veterans can provide lasting solace. 

Statistics on Veteran Mental Health 

On average, 20.6% of Americans experienced a mental health disorder. In other words, that’s about 51.5 million people. This statistic comes from a 2019 report cited by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). 

Yet, NAMI also reports that around 25% of military members met the description for a mental health condition. 

Veteran mental health is a crisis in the United States. While mental health disorders are common as a whole when it comes to the American population, it’s much higher when it comes to veterans. The human brain isn’t geared to inflict lethal damage on another person. This is even more true when it comes to civilian casualties. Additionally, the average civilian doesn’t worry about overcoming the trauma of being a military prisoner. 

Reasons such as these justify the alarming statistics on veteran mental health in the United States: 

  • Around 22 veterans commit suicide each day, proving how serious depression in veterans is 
  • 30% of military personnel (active and reserved) in Iraq and Afghanistan have a mental health disorder that requires treatment 
  • Military personnel are 15 times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 
  • Depression in veterans is five times more likely than the average American 
Veteran Mental Health

Issues from war trauma don’t end there. Veterans must deal with assimilating back into normal society when their time in the military is over. They might be under pressure to not seek help with a mental health disorder. 

Certain classified information may be crucial to keep safe for national security but impedes their mental health recovery. These are legal issues that may stop a veteran from getting the help they so need. On another note, this may prevent them from securing a job. They only have experience within the military and then have a mental illness on top of it. 

Why Veterans and Substance Use Disorder Is So Common

First off, veterans and substance use disorders are common because they are at a higher risk of a mental health disorder. Generally speaking, people develop destructive thought patterns and behaviors to mask pain. This could be either physical or mental pain. Drugs and alcohol seem like a good way to deal with it since it has an immediate effect. It’s certainly a lot easier than researching medical professionals and therapeutic solutions. 

When people become desperate for a solution to tough problems, drugs and alcohol seem like the only answer. This is true for American veterans. Though, they have more pressure to be okay since they need to be brave for the country. This thought may translate to life even after the military. 

Science shows that veteran mental health correlates with veterans and substance use disorder: 

  • Over one in ten veterans have a substance use disorder 
  • Male veterans 18-25 have higher rates of substance use disorder than civilians 
  • Rates of substance use disorder increase when a person goes from active military personnel to veteran 
  • Substance use clinics note 10.7% of veterans admitted use heroin 
  • Six percent of veterans had a cocaine addiction in one government study 
  • Cannabis use has gone up by over 50% for veterans from 2002-2009 

Opioids can also be a problem for veterans. A war inflicts both emotional and physical damage on military personnel. Therefore, opioids may be prescribed to veterans that deal with chronic pain because of an injury. Research cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that two-thirds of veterans experience pain after active duty. Painkillers can become extremely addictive, especially when veteran mental health is a factor. 

Also, alcohol use disorders are the most common form of substance use disorder for veterans. One in three military members will struggle with one. 

Is Veteran Mental Health Different for Men Than Women? 

In short, yes, veteran mental health is different for men and women. On a broad level, it’s because women and men face a separate set of issues when they enter a substance use disorder center. Both encounter societal pressures which may deal with through drugs and alcohol after the military. 

Women suffering from a substance use disorder face these issues:

  • Getting help with their children during treatment if no father is in the picture 
  • Worries of getting their children taken away 
  • The risk of fetal alcohol syndrome 
  • Not being able to afford menstruation products over drugs and alcohol 

These are just a few issues female veterans experience when they suffer from a substance use disorder. However, there’s an issue that plagues veteran mental health when it comes to women in particular. Often, sexual harassment and abuse can lead to mental health issues. Additionally, 22% of women in the military report military sexual trauma (MST). On the other hand, some sources say it’s as high as 25% of female veterans. 

Veteran Mental Health

To continue, the US Department of Veterans Affairs defines MST as, “sexual assault or harassment experienced during military service.” This may include being touched inappropriately and being coerced into physical intimacy either verbally or physically. 

For example, a higher-ranking officer may threaten a lower-ranking female with worse assignment duties if she fails to reciprocate feelings. It’s especially difficult when the person who is a predator is the person in charge of helping peers with a sexually uncomfortable situation. 

It’s important to note that both female and male veterans experience MST. Although, women in the military experience it on a disproportionate level (1% of male veterans). Both genders may develop a serious mental health disorder because of it though. It may appear at the time that it happens, or decades later. 

How Substance Use Disorder Centers Aid Veteran Mental Health 

Substance use disorders, especially for veterans, is treatable with the right plan. A large part of long-lasting results comes from being in the right environment. Veterans can benefit from becoming a member at a facility like Sana Lake Behavioral Wellness Center because of the setting. Our community provides a personalized plan for veterans due to a variety of factors. No two members are the same, and so neither are our plans. Though, it will most likely be a form of co-occurring disorders treatment to tackle substance use and mental illness. 

We have different programs and services to suit every veteran’s needs. Whether they are dealing with a lifetime of addiction or a day, we know veteran mental health is crucial to recovery. The following programs and services are made to support veterans and substance use disorder. 

Therapy for Veteran Mental Health 

To begin, therapy can help veterans uncover any hidden trauma. They might find that chronic pain they deal with every day is a physical manifestation of psychological troubles. Certain mental illnesses that veterans may deal with are anxiety, PTSD, and depression. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may aid any of these underlying causes for substance use disorder. The theory behind this therapy is that negative behavior and thoughts lead to mental illness. A therapist will work with a veteran to determine which thoughts and behaviors are behind their issues. Then, they will work to insert a new positive way of thinking before they happen. 

Other therapies also work on a veteran’s subconscious. Some include dialectical behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Depending on the veteran and therapy, it can be offered individually, in a group, or with family. Sometimes group therapy is better for veterans because they are surrounded by peers who come from a similar background. This adds depth to not being alone in a battle with a substance use disorder. 

Programs for Veteran Mental Health

Substance use disorder treatment facilities offer programs with different levels of intensity. These include inpatient programs, outpatient programs, partial hospitalization programs (PHP), and intensive outpatient programs (IOP). One isn’t necessarily better than the other. It depends on a veteran’s lifestyle, budget, and severity of mental illness and substance use. 

Inpatient Programs 

This type of treatment is the most intense form. This is because a member will live at the facility. That’s why another name for it is residential treatment. An inpatient program may be the best type of treatment for veterans because it removes them from external influences and gives them a chance to focus completely on recovery. It’s crucial to long-term recovery. 

Outpatient Programs 

Sometimes a member at a substance use disorder facility can’t shy away from outside responsibilities. Perhaps they must take care of elderly parents or children. In this case, an outpatient program would suit them the best. It allows members to attend a center where it fits into their schedule. At the end of the day, they are able to go back home and take care of their responsibilities. 

Sana Lake Behavioral Wellness Center Specializes in Veteran Mental Health 

Veteran mental health is a different battle than the one they have experience with. There is no superior guiding the way. No enemies or demons to face except the ones that plague veterans and substance use disorder. Sana Lake Behavioral Wellness Center cures underlying reasons for substance use disorder, including depression in veterans, PTSD, and anxiety. Contact us now if you are a veteran that needs help battling the turmoil of a substance use disorder. 

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Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.