The path to a healthy, sober future is never perfectly linear, and many highs and lows will make up one’s recovery journey. For veterans of the armed forces, these journeys can be even more complicated as they battle substance abuse, trauma, anxiety, depression, and many other mental health disorders birthed from their time on active duty.
Tackling co-occurring disorders in veterans is a complicated process. However, it is always possible to overcome the unique challenges that may affect the daily life of veterans with co-occurring disorders.
What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?
Co-occurring disorders demand a unique approach. Co-occurring disorders indicate that an individual struggles with substance use disorder (SUD) in tandem with another mental health disorder. The use of addictive substances and mental health often inform each other and create a unique cycle of self-destructive practices.
Furthermore, co-occurring disorders can still take many forms. For example, one veteran may have alcohol use disorder (AUD) and an anxiety disorder, while another may be trying to navigate an addiction to heroin and co-occurring major depressive disorder (MDD).
Common mental health disorders that may accompany one’s use of addictive substances include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Personality disorders
- Mood disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Addictive substances are often used as a coping mechanism to help individuals quell the intense feelings and symptoms that can accompany mental health disorders.
Co-Occurring Disorders in Veterans
Veterans are uniquely at risk for developing co-occurring disorders due to traumatic experiences from their time in the military. Being in an active warzone and life-threatening situations, the loss of brothers and sisters in arms, or even the emotional and physical impact of training in boot camp can all have lasting effects on an individual. These aspects of military life can leave traumas that can follow veterans as they transition into civilian life.
Of the veterans of the Vietnam War with PTSD, 74% also met the criteria for SUD. While each veteran will have their own unique experiences, some risk factors for co-occurring disorders include:
- The war one served in
- Number of deployments
- Use of substances
- The prevalence of PTSD
- Whether or not one experienced military sexual trauma (MST)
Veterans may also be exposed to addictive substances during their time in the military. Prescription painkillers for injuries incurred on duty or the active drinking culture that permeates many military branches can all expose military personnel to dangerous, addictive substances while regularly exposing veterans to mentally intense situations.
Identifying Co-Occurring Disorders in Veterans
Identifying co-occurring disorders as soon as possible is essential for personalizing one’s recovery and treating each veteran’s unique situation. While each individual will have their specific symptoms and struggles, some of the common signs of co-occurring disorders include:
- Sudden changes in mood or personality
- Compromised workplace performance
- Inconsistent professional attendance
- Hyperfocused on obtaining prescription drugs
- Continued emotional turmoil, even while sober
- Sudden monetary difficulties
- Self-destructive practices
- Suicidal ideology
Recognizing any of these symptoms can indicate a need for change. Being mindful of the signs and symptoms of co-occurring disorders can enable veterans and loved ones to take action as soon as possible.
The Need to Address Co-Occurring Disorders in Tandem
There is no single path to a healthy, sober future, and addressing co-occurring disorders simultaneously is essential for a truly transformative recovery. Addressing mental health disorders such as anxiety, panic, and trauma is exceptionally difficult without acknowledging addictive substances’ role in one’s life. This can be especially true if one is still actively using substances while trying to treat any of their other mental health disorders.
Likewise, addressing one’s use of addictive substances without acknowledging one’s underlying mental health needs can leave one at an increased risk for relapse as the sources of one’s use are unaddressed. This may also leave gaps in an individual’s coping strategies or perspective, further complicating one’s recovery journey.
Veterans have served their country with strength, and it is necessary to repay this service with proper care and support. Dedicated veteran programs ensure that one receives effective treatment for co-occurring disorders, with trauma-informed programs to address anxiety, depression, or PTSD while coping with the ongoing effects of drugs and alcohol.
Deconstructing stigmas and empowering veterans to reach out for help is just the first step. Building a community of peers, dedicated staff, and a place of acceptance all help veterans take their first step toward a truly transformed, healthy future.
Co-occurring disorders present a unique challenge, and simultaneously navigating the complexities of mental health disorders and substance abuse can be complex. However, it is never impossible with the proper support and a dedicated center for alcohol and drug treatment.
At Hawaii Island Recovery, we understand the unique challenges that veterans face every day. Whether you are struggling with addiction, mental health disorders, trauma, or a combination, we can create a recovery plan to fit your needs and goals. From detox through residential and ongoing outpatient care, Hawaii Island Recovery is proud to act as a community and resource for veterans struggling with co-occurring disorders, developing dedicated recovery plans, coping strategies, and spiritual wellness in your recovery journey, or continuing to support you outside of our walls. Our treatment center in Hawaii is committed to establishing an accepting, veteran-focused community that allows us to cater our services to your needs and goals. For more information on how we can personalize your time with us, or to speak to a caring, trained staff member about your needs and goals, call us today at (866) 390-5070.