Often referred to as dual-diagnosis, co-occurring disorders are a challenging set of issues that involve a combination of substance abuse and mental health conditions. Because of the complexity of both presentations, treatment for these diagnoses can be complicated. Many veterans today are struggling with co-occurring disorders - specifically substance use disorder, PTSD, anxiety, and depression. To make matters worse, the way these conditions present in veterans is often more intricate than normal civilians and the consequences of leaving them untreated is often fatal. Understanding the severity of this topic, the necessity of seeking help, and the available resources for veterans struggling is paramount to healing.
Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders
46% of vets with PTSD meet the criteria for substance use disorder and thus a co-occurring disorder. Many veterans grapple with the weight of combat related traumatic experiences while also struggling with mental health difficulties. When combined, lots of soldiers turn to substance use as a means of coping. Substance abuse often exacerbates PTSD and mental health issues setting into motion a vicious cycle. Over seven and half million soldiers battling co-occurring disorders underscores the severity of this epidemic and the urgency of treatment.
PTSD & Substance Abuse
Post-traumatic stress disorder, stemming from the traumatic events experienced during service, is a common mental health condition amongst veterans returning home. Vets with PTSD are more likely to develop issues related to substance use. Excessive alcohol and drug use as a way to self-medicate and alleviate emotional pain is common.
Anxiety Disorders and Substance Abuse
Anxiety disorders are another common co-occurring disorder which veterans often struggle with. These disorders can manifest themselves as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or social anxiety disorder. The National Institute of Drug Abuse states that those who suffer from an anxiety diagnosis are two times more likely to struggle with substance abuse. The suffering from anxiety symptoms can be debilitating, leading veterans towards the numbing effects of drugs and alcohol.
Depression and Substance Abuse
Depression is another major co-occurring disorder amongst veterans. As soldiers seek to reintegrate into civilian lives, the transition can be rocky. Living in constant danger, each day filled with purpose and action, then returning to a normal routine where life moves a lot slower and the majority of people can’t relate to what you’ve been through can be jarring. Feelings of listlessness, lack of purpose, isolation, and survivors guilt often leads to deep bouts of depression. As with PTSD and anxiety, drugs and alcohol become a way to self-medicate furthering the effects of depression. If left untreated, suicidal ideation and planning may follow.
The Importance of Co-Occurring Treatment
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of co-occurring disorders is the frontline defense towards treating them. Without proper treatment, these issues can worsen and become fatal. Integrated veterans treatment programs that will address mental health and substance abuse at the same time have been proved to be more effective than treating one at a time. It’s imperative to find a program that offers a well-rounded approach to treatment, including therapy, medication, support, trauma processing, and aftercare options. Used as a whole, this can help vets regain control of their lives.
Resources for Veterans
VA Healthcare: The VA has veteran specific, comprehensive healthcare services and treatment centers. These are accessible through their local VA facility or by contacting the VA directly.
Private Treatment: Due to the zero tolerance policy on substance abuse and soldiers' concerns over lack of anonymity within the VA hospitals, many soldiers elect to seek treatment outside of the VA system. There are many private treatment facilities that accept insurance and are tailored to treating the unique conditions of veterans with co-occurring disorders. Owl’s Nest Recovery is one such facility. Searching online and/or speaking with a VA case manager about outside options is a good place to start.
Support Groups: Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are a great resource and provide veteran specific support groups for soldiers and their families. Working with other vets and working within support groups catered to their needs can be hugely beneficial and provide community and accountability.
Overcoming co-occurring disorders as a veteran is a significant challenge and can feel overwhelming. However, treating PTSD, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse hand-in-hand is done everyday. Daily, vets around the country are recognizing the need for dual-diagnosis treatment and accessing available resources to change their lives and the lives of their family. There is help available. Call our admissions line today to learn more about Owl’s Nest Recovery’s veteran services.