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Alcohol and Drug Rehab for Veterans

Veterans often face unique challenges when struggling with susbtance use and mental health disorders, and rehab can help with both issues.

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Veterans face several unique challenges when struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD), the diagnostic term for what’s more commonly known as addiction.  Despite the efforts of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other organizations, the rate of substance misuse among veteran populations was rising as of a 2017 study.1 It’s also not uncommon for veterans to struggle with both a substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental health disorder like anxiety, PTSD, or depression. 1

Risk factors for substance misuse, mental health challenges, and addiction among the veteran population include:2

  • Experiencing trauma, injury, or hospitalized while on active duty.
  • Combat exposure.
  • Challenges related to deployment.
  • Stress and difficulties reintegrating into civilian life with friends, family, and society.
  • The development of mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression.

Fortunately, there are effective treatments for veterans struggling with substance misuse and co-occurring mental health disorders. Addiction treatment programs that focus on veterans and the unique challenges they face with substance misuse can lead to better recovery outcomes.1, 6 Understanding the ways that veterans experience addiction, how veterans-specific treatment programs can help, and how to find these programs can help you start your journey to recovery.

Substance Use in Veterans

The risk factors mentioned above can influence a veteran’s use of drugs and alcohol as well as contribute to the development of mental health disorders.2 Studies show that in 2019, 3.9 million adult veterans in the United States had both a mental health and substance use disorder, a 6.5% increase from 2018.3 There are several different mental health disorders that veterans are vulnerable to developing. PTSD and depression are the two of the more prevalent and publicized mental health disorders impacting veterans today. 4(1st paragraph) Additionally, veterans with a mental health disorder may also be at increased risk for suicide, trauma, traumatic brain injury (TBI), interpersonal violence, and homelessness.2, 4

Mental health disorders are common and often appear alongside substance use disorders in veterans. In fact, some studies have indicated that veterans diagnosed with a substance use disorder are 3 to 4 times more likely to meet the criteria for a depression or PTSD diagnosis. 2 Being diagnosed with both a mental health and substance use disorder increases a veteran’s risk for other health problems.2 Veterans who receive a diagnosis for a SUD and PTSD are at an increased risk of developing:2

  • Liver disease.
  • Seizures.
  • Developing more severe psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other anxiety disorders.

Drug Abuse in Veterans

It is thought that due to sustained injuries and the potential mental health struggles experienced while on active duty, many veterans are more likely to be prescribed certain medications which, with regular use, could place them at increased risk of developing specific types of substance addictions. Nearly  9% of veterans report struggling with severe pain, a substantial increase compared with the 6.4% of the general population that reports experiencing severe pain.2 This increased need for severe pain management could potentially lead to an increased risk of prescription opioid overdose.2 Due to their addictive nature, overuse of opioids, especially if one is struggling with a mental health disorder, may result in the development of an opioid use disorder (OUD).2 It is estimated that in 2019 alone 595,000 veterans had some form of opioid misuse including:3

  • 57,000 veterans using heroin.
  • 555,000 veterans misusing prescription pain medication.
  • 16,000 veterans misusing both prescription pain medication and heroin.

Alcohol Abuse in Veterans

Alcohol abuse is another common problem among active-duty service members.2 Researchers believe that the risks associated with active combat, such as trauma and violence, make active military personnel more vulnerable to alcohol misuse than the general population who are not exposed to such circumstances.2 Unfortunately, studies indicate that alcohol misuse doesn’t end when a military member is discharged. Alcohol may be used as a way to cope with the stressors of mental health disorder, struggles with returning to civilian life, or physical pain and trauma.2 Nearly 65% of veterans who attend treatment at a rehab program report alcohol as their primary substance for misuse.2

Specialized Rehab Programs for Veterans

Specialized addiction treatment for veterans is often tailored to address the unique struggles that veterans experience when struggling with addiction. Primary treatments for veterans struggling with substance misuse may include behavioral treatments, pharmacological treatments, and preventative care.1 Community and peer support, often occurring in a group therapy setting, may also be an important element of veterans-specific treatment programs.7 Several types of evidence-based therapeutic approaches may be used in veterans-specific treatment, including:1

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI).
  • Medications for addiction treatment (MAT), also known as medication-assisted treatment or pharmacotherapy.
  • Group and individual counseling and therapies.

Does Insurance Cover Rehab Treatment for Veterans?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), requires that all public and private insurance plans provide some degree of coverage for medically necessary treatment of behavioral and mental health disorder.8 This requirement applies to the treatment of substance use disorders. Additionally, these provisions requires the VA health network to provide coverage for the treatment of substance use disorder, potentially helping veterans receive treatment at little to no cost.

Many veterans will be eligible to receive treatment at a VA facility. The VA offers alcohol and drug treatment programs that may include services like:10

  • Medically managed detoxification services (medical detox).
  • Inpatient, residential, and outpatient care.
  • Medications for opioids use disorders including methadone and buprenorphine.
  • Continuing care and relapse prevention.
  • Specialty programs for veterans with certain concerns (e.g., women’s programs, programs for homeless veterans, programs for returning combat veterans, etc.)

If all nearby VA programs are full or you are unable to receive care at a local VA, you may be referred to a VA Community Care partner.9 The VA Community Care Network (CCN) provides expanded access to health care services, including substance use disorder treatment at community partner locations. The Community Care partners work with the VA insurance, and may be able to provide you with essential addiction treatment.9

To be eligible for this program, you need to be enrolled in the VA healthcare system and meet other eligibility requirements.10 Contact your local VA to obtain more information and see if you qualify.

How to Find Veterans Rehab Facilities

As previously mentioned, if you are a veteran and you have questions about your treatment options and insurance coverage, contact your local VA. You may also want to look into Community Care partners who provide substance use disorder treatment and accept VA insurance.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) may be able to provide you with specialized treatment. At AAC, we offer our Salute to Recovery Program which is available at two locations: Desert Hope and Recovery First Treatment Centers. AAC recognizes and respects the unique challenges and needs of the veteran population, which is why we offer a specialized rehabilitation program.

Additional Veteran Addiction Resources

Aside from the VA, there are additional nonprofit organizations, community groups, and government-funded programs that focus on helping veterans receive the help and support they need. These programs include:

If you are a veteran struggling with addiction, don’t wait to get the support you need. Talk to your local VA representative or call AAC at to speak with an admissions navigator who can help answer questions.