Veterans of the armed forces face an incredibly difficult and complicated situation, with many suffering from traumatic experiences as a result of their time in the military. Trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and addiction are all prevalent among veterans. It can be impossible to truly imagine the stresses that veterans face or to place oneself in their shoes. However, being able to identify their unique struggles is instrumental in developing a supportive relationship and providing assistance in the difficult battles that veterans face. 

The Symptoms and Effects of Trauma and PTSD

Trauma affects each individual differently. However, for military veterans, it can be even more challenging as they attempt to navigate a new civilian lifestyle. These traumatic experiences can take many forms. For some, the loss of a brother or sister can loom in one’s thoughts, with feelings of guilt or grief being prevalent throughout the day. Others may have lived through life-threatening situations, such as active, armed conflict, and may constantly relive the stresses, anxieties, and panic throughout their daily lives. 

Some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans include:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Flashbacks
  • Insomnia 
  • Nightmares
  • Shaking
  • Avoiding places/situations
  • Self-isolation
  • Overwhelming feelings of guilt/survivor’s guilt
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Constantly emotionally and physically “on guard” 
  • Mood swings/irritability
  • Disregard for personal safety
  • Attempts to self-medicate, especially with drugs or alcohol
  • Addiction and substance use

It is exceptionally difficult for veterans from any branch of the military to put down their guard and embrace a civilian lifestyle, especially with one’s training being directly contrary to such a relaxed mindset. Being trained to prepare for life-threatening encounters or remain vigilant and identify potential threats carries an incredibly high toll on the mind. Commonly, such a perspective will continue to negatively impact an individual in daily life. 

What Makes Veteran Programs Different?

This stress, coupled with the invasive thoughts and memories of traumatic experiences, can cause an individual to feel desperate to make such trying emotions stop, and can look to anything to placate these thoughts and memories. Even any physical injuries and scars incurred during one’s time in the armed forces can serve as difficult reminders of these traumas, further making it difficult to emotionally move on from traumatic experiences. The prevalence of trauma can often lead to dangerous attempts at self-medication, especially with drugs and alcohol. Addiction among veterans is common as an attempt to cope with these difficulties. 

The Prevalence of Addiction in Veterans

Addiction is an incredibly destructive disease. Veterans are at an increased risk of developing an addiction for many reasons. In just the veterans of Afghani and Iraqi tours, about one in 10 return with a substance use disorder or addiction. For some, this can be a result of a heavy drinking culture among members of the armed forces, with regular drinking being common for those on active duty. Others may suffer from injury and are prescribed painkillers that are highly addictive, following an individual out of the military and into veteran and civilian life. 

Coupled with the atmosphere of strength that is expected of military personnel, veterans can be at a higher risk for abusing drugs or alcohol or developing an addiction to these substances while also being faced with additional barriers to seeking help for their use or unique traumatic experiences. 

Some of the symptoms of addiction in veterans can include:

  • Increased anxiety or depression
  • Mood swings
  • Anger/irritability
  • Self-isolating tendencies
  • Disinterest in relationships
  • Disinterest in hobbies
  • Financial troubles
  • Avoiding responsibilities
  • Inability to accept criticism

These symptoms can contribute to significant physical and mental health harm. Addiction among veterans is not the result of any kind of weakness, but rather the result of extreme stresses, trauma, culture, and the heavy expectations placed upon them. Coping with addiction in veterans is difficult, as their unique needs and life experiences create the need for a wholly unique approach to recovery and sobriety. 

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The Barriers That Veterans Face

Identifying addiction and trauma in veterans is just the first step toward detox and recovery. Healing for veterans demands a unique approach. The unique experiences of veterans, including culture, traumatic experiences, perspective, and difficulty adjusting to civilian life are all exceptionally difficult. It can be hard to truly invest and commit to a recovery program if there aren’t individuals who understand the unique plights that veterans face daily. 

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Creating a community of veterans and trauma-informed professionals is necessary to deconstructing these barriers surrounding veterans, and working to construct a supportive and understanding atmosphere is crucial for allowing vulnerabilities to be expressed and trauma to begin healing. The journey of veterans to a healthy and sober future is a difficult one, and one that necessitates a personalized approach with peers who understand the difficulties veterans face. 

Veterans are important members of our community, and identifying addiction and trauma is the first step to helping these crucial community members thrive. At Hawaii Island Recovery, we understand the unique challenges that veterans face. We offer a dedicated veteran program, staffed with trained, trauma-informed professionals, that is ready to help you take the first step toward a healthy, sober future. We offer an array of specialties that can help you challenge the effects of trauma in daily life while coping with the urges and cravings to engage with drugs and alcohol. We also offer support groups for individuals to build relationships with peers who share in one’s experiences as a veteran. From detox and residential care to ongoing resources and guidance, we are prepared to help you through your unique needs and goals for recovery each step of the way. For more information on how we can help you, call us today at (877) 721-3556.