Understanding Veterans in Recovery

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Every November 11th, we set aside a day for the brave men and women of our armed forces. Without their sacrifices, love, and protection, America would not be the land of the free or the home of the brave. This is why it is so important to honor their dedication not just on the holiday but year-round. 

When we think of honoring someone, we usually imagine thanking them, rewarding them, and offering our help. These aspects are important, but one piece that is sometimes lost is to also try and understand them. 

Our military is often faced with challenges that the average civilian can scarcely imagine. These differences in experience can make returning home tricky for many war veterans. After learning more about what many veterans go through during and after war, we can better honor and help them in life. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Veterans 

There are few things a human being can experience that are more stressful than war. Many veterans have experienced traumatic situations which unfortunately develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially if left untreated. 

Whether it be violence done to them, violence done to others, or tragic things they have seen, these experiences can leave a lasting impression that requires later treatment. Research has shown that in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, between 11 and 20 out of every 100 veterans will develop PTSD in a given year. Many veterans with this condition also end up developing substance use disorder (SUD) relating to their trauma. It is believed that symptoms of PTSD fall into four categories: 

#1. Intrusive Thoughts: People with PTSD often experience powerful flashbacks or memories of their trauma that can cause emotional harm. These experiences are sometimes so vivid that they feel like reality. Some of these experiences are triggered by the senses (such as loud noise) or felt at seemingly random times. 

#2. Avoidance: As a defense mechanism, many people with PTSD will avoid things that remind them of their trauma. These triggers may be sounds, places, or even people. PTSD patients may also avoid ever speaking about their trauma, even with a professional in a therapy setting. Avoidance is often a defense against intrusive thoughts. 

#3. Thinking and Mood: PTSD may include symptoms that affect mood and thoughts. These symptoms are memory loss, inability to feel joy or pleasure, and negative thinking patterns. Fear, shame, and guilt can all be motivating factors for negative thought patterns and should be addressed during treatment. Negative thought patterns can be directed inwards at oneself or outwards at others. 

#4. Reactivity: PTSD patients often find themselves feeling on high alert far often than others. This feeling is called hyperarousal. Hyperarousal can be exhausting and make an individual feel tired and unwell. This alertness can also make people suspicious or fearful of others and cause irritability or hostility. 

Substance Use Disorder and Veterans 

As mentioned above, there is an unfortunate relationship between PTSD and substance use problems.Studies show that one in ten veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan have a problem with alcohol or other drugs. Out of the veterans seeking treatment for SUD, one-third of them also have PTSD. 

Many people use substances to try and cope with or escape from the symptoms of PTSD. For example, if someone is experiencing trauma flashbacks, they may use a substance to try and distract themselves or suppress their emotions. Since PTSD also affects mood, someone may look to mood-altering drugs or alcohol to change their mental state. 

In the short term, this method may seem effective, but in the end, it only serves to worsen problems and trauma over time. Thankfully there are treatment centers that work to treat clients with a dual diagnosis of PTSD and SUD. Treating both together is vital for achieving the best chances of success. 

Re-Adjusting to Civilian Life 

For many veterans, returning to civilian life has its challenges. For one, soldiers dedicate themselves entirely to their mission, sometimes for years on end. They often form powerful bonds and have some genuinely life-changing experiences that civilian life just does not seem to offer them. This can certainly be a challenge, especially when first coming home. 

Thankfully, there are many veteran communities online and around the country dedicated to connecting people. Some of these organizations are specific to certain branches, such as the Army and Marines, and some include the families of those who served as well. 

Many veterans also find enjoyment in activities such as hunting and martial arts. Famous Navy Seal commander Jocko Willink is a big supporter of these activities and even works at a gym called Victory MMA. 

Our veterans have given us more than we could ever repay, and that is why we need to understand what they go through. Through this understanding, we may be able to honor them properly and make sure we give them what they need and certainly deserve. 

There is no greater sacrifice than to risk your own life for what you believe in. This is why we must treat our veterans with understanding, honor, and respect. Unfortunately, war can leave many scars, and not all of them are physical. Many people with psychological trauma end up developing substance use disorder at some point in their lives. For veterans who deal with this problem, it is essential to know that people understand and can help. Recovery is something that nobody should have to go through alone, especially the heroes of our military. If you are seeking treatment for yourself or a loved one, Everlast Recovery Centers is here to help. Our caring staff offers trauma-informed care and treatment plans tailored to your needs. We want to give you the best chance of success possible. To learn more about our programs and services, call us at (866) 338-6925 today.

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