Each branch of the armed forces is home to people of many different races, religions, and genders. Women make up an ever-growing percentage of the armed forces.  In 2015, 9.4% of United States military service members were women. Each year since then, women have steadily increased their numbers in each branch of the United States military. 

However, women in the military face a unique set of potential traumas and difficulties throughout their time in service. Understanding the challenges of these veterans is the first step in creating the best approach to an effective recovery plan.

Trauma Among Veterans

Veterans are no strangers to trauma, and veteran men and women alike are exposed to extreme, life-threatening events. The physical and emotional toll of being an active service member is high. Life in a warzone can fundamentally alter one’s perspectives of the world. Meanwhile, losing brothers and sisters in arms can be a significant source of grief or survivor’s guilt. These traumas cannot be understated. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other anxiety disorders, depression, and panic are common among veterans as they process the events faced in the line of duty. 

Military Sexual Trauma

Military sexual trauma (MST) is any action, from verbal sexual harassment to sexual assault, conducted in a military setting. While both men and women can be victims of MST, it disproportionately affects women in the military. Approximately 23% of women in the military report having experienced at least one instance of sexual assault while in the military. 

Harassment while deployed or on base, assault from a superior officer, and domestic abuse from a military spouse are all examples of ways MST can affect women in the military. Each of these types of MST has lasting traumatic effects that veterans carry from military to civilian life. These traumatic effects can have a negative impact on mental health and sometimes lead to or worsen the use of addictive substances. 

The Prevalence of Multiple Risk Factors for Trauma

As veterans, women who were in the military are at risk of struggling with the same traumas and issues as their male counterparts. As women, they are also at risk for the traumas that disproportionately affect women in the United States regardless of their veteran status. 

Eighty-three to 91% of female veterans have suffered from trauma at some point in their lives. Of this group, 30 to 45% report experiencing sexual trauma while in military service, while others may experience domestic abuse, combat exposure, or some other type of trauma. 

Veterans are already predisposed to a myriad of traumatic experiences. For women veterans, these traumas can be further exacerbated by their personal experiences and trials throughout their time in service. 

Addiction as a Response

The use of addictive substances among veterans is prevalent. Addictive substances are commonly used as a way to alleviate traumatic experiences, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and many other lingering struggles from one’s time in service. 

Between feeling unable to reach out for help or looking to maintain an image of strength or heroism imposed upon the veteran community, the use of addictive substances can quickly develop into an addiction to self-medicate these intense experiences. Alcohol, prescription painkillers, opioids, and other addictive substances are all commonly used as attempts to self-medicate feelings of stress, anxiety, and other effects of trauma. 

However, while these substances seek to sedate the mind from flashbacks or intense emotions, they do little to address the sources of one’s experiences or emotional state. They do not provide an effective way to recover from these experiences. Addressing the unique struggles of veteran women and how traumatic experiences and addictive substances relate to each other takes a dedicated and deliberate approach with specialized centers for alcohol and drug treatment ready to address these unique struggles.

Beginning Your Healing Journey

There is no easy way to overcome trauma or addiction, and the two can continue to create a cycle of self-destructive behaviors detrimental to one’s physical and mental health. Addressing them in tandem is necessary to begin a truly transformative journey. Women veterans have a unique set of struggles that they may face daily, and a specialized recovery program is essential for the most effective healing journey.

Dedicated veteran programs are instrumental in helping bolster communication and deconstructing stigmas around recovery among military members, creating an accepting atmosphere and sense of camaraderie necessary for practical support and change. These programs also come equipped with trauma-informed care and specially trained professionals already privy to the unique challenges that veterans face and the challenges women face even within this demographic. This acceptance and understanding is the first step towards a transformed future. Dedicated veteran programs are instrumental in creating a catalyst of change toward a healthier, sober future. 

Women face many trials, both from their time in the military as well as at home, and we at Hawaii Island Recovery are committed to helping you take the first step toward a healthy, transformed future. From trauma-informed care to veteran-specific communities, our Hawaii recovery center is proud to provide care to the men and women that have served our country. We are prepared to guide you from your first step into detox through residential and outpatient care, personalizing your needs, goals, effective practices, and spiritual healing each step of the way. We take a unique approach to each person, creating specific plans based on your needs and goals for recovery, all while managing how trauma, anxiety, depression, and more continue to impact your life. We believe in healing the whole self. For more information on how we can help you, call us today at (866) 390-5070.