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People in the military face some unique and extreme challenges related to substance abuse. This applies to both veterans and active duty. According to research from SAMHSA, more than 18% of active-duty participants had PTSD or depression after returning from deployment.[1] Also, nearly 20% reported having a traumatic brain injury. Mental health disorders and TBI are both risk factors for developing a substance use disorder.

Military Substance Abuse Program

Transitioning to civilian life after being deployed can be especially challenging. People who live in survival mode 24/7 and are suddenly faced with a completely different lifestyle may struggle even more. Many veterans wind up homeless due to unmet mental health needs, relationship troubles, substances, and other reasons. While some veterans develop a substance use disorder before becoming homeless, others often develop one. According to research from SAMHSA, more than 70% of homeless veterans struggle with substance use disorders.[2]

Families of people who are currently serving or are veterans often look for ways to help a struggling loved one. Trying to find a military substance abuse program can seem challenging. However, there are special resources for veterans and those on active duty. There are government-based resources and private treatment centers as well. Working with a treatment facility or program that understands the unique and complex challenges people in the military face is important.

Substance Use Rates in the Military

According to one study among those on active duty and veterans, the rate of alcohol use for active-duty service members was nearly 92%.[3] Their use of hard drugs was about 5%, and the use of marijuana among those who were serving was nearly 4%. About 11% of respondents used prescription drugs with addiction potential. Cigarette use was much higher at almost 41%. For veterans, the post-separation alcohol use rate was nearly 89%. For cigarettes, the post-separation rate was about 38%. It was just over 26% for marijuana and more than 11% for hard drugs. For prescription drugs, the post-separation use rate climbed to 15%.

Research showed that at least 11% of veterans who sought care for the first time in the VA system after active duty fit the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder.[4] One risk that veterans who suffer from unmanaged mental health conditions face is a higher risk of suicide, and research shows that substance use may increase that risk. According to research, about 30% of veteran suicides happened after alcohol use, and about 20% of deaths associated with risky behavior among veterans were linked to drug or alcohol overdoses.[4] The research also showed that opioids were the most common prescription drugs veterans misused.

Military Substance Use Disorder Treatment Programs

The Army Substance Abuse Program, also called ASAP, has a page that provides information about treatment for those on active duty.[5] The programs provided by ASAP aim to improve soldiers’ readiness for combat and strengthen the manpower of the U.S. Army. Referral to the SUDCC program can happen in several ways. Soldiers can report themselves, their supervisors can report them, or medical personnel may report them if they discover substance use.[6] There are an evaluation, counseling, urine testing requirements, and other steps soldiers must complete in the program. Those who have a valid ID and are eligible for services in a military medical facility qualify. Also, those who are eligible through the Federal Civilian Employees Occupational Health Services program qualify.

The VA offers several services for veterans who struggle with substance use.[7] Many other organizations may also offer assistance in finding substance use treatment or mental health treatment. Stop Soldier Suicide helps those on active duty and veterans find financial assistance for the help they need regardless of discharge status.[8] The Military Crisis Line is another resource veterans, active duty, and concerned family members can call for help. The number is 1-800-273-8255. Also, some treatment facilities accept Tricare and provide veterans or those on active duty with the help they need to treat and overcome addiction.

How Treatment Centers Help Military Service Members

People who are on active duty may face the risk of dishonorable discharge for illicit drug use.[9] However, once service members leave the military, that incentive to not misuse alcohol or drugs disappears. For many, the temptation increases as they transition to civilian life and presents psychological and emotional challenges. For some, it also presents physical challenges. Treatment facilities can help service members by providing customized plans for their unique needs. These are some important factors to understand about how addiction treatment programs work.

Military Substance Abuse Programs

Treatment Program Structures

Some treatment centers offer an inpatient structure. While the ASAP option may provide inpatient care in some instances, many veterans and active-duty service members prefer an outpatient structure. With outpatient care, a person still remains at home most of the time. There are several levels of outpatient structures. Partial hospitalization is a structure that often includes five hours of therapy five days per week.

The next level is intensive outpatient care; therapy is usually a few hours for each session and may be multiple times per week. People who do not require a higher level of care may benefit from a regular outpatient structure, which includes at least a few hours per week of therapy in one or more sessions. A therapist determines how long therapy sessions should be and how often, and that schedule is typically adjusted based on individual needs. Some facilities also provide telehealth-based therapy.

Therapy Structures for Addiction Treatment

There are also therapy structures in addiction treatment. For example, some therapy sessions may be group therapy, which involves others who struggle with addiction. Individual therapy involves the person seeking treatment and the therapist. There is also family therapy, which involves the affected family members of the person with the addiction. Many therapists recommend at least individual and group therapy. During treatment, service members are also introduced to 12-step programs. These are group structures that involve peer support and follow the famous 12 steps of sobriety. This also encompasses a helpful therapeutic approach since 12-step programs include a sponsor and peer support.

Therapy Approaches for Addiction Treatment

Therapists typically use cognitive behavioral therapy, which is commonly shortened to CBT. It helps people identify the reasons for using a substance or reasons for certain behaviors. CBT is also useful in general mental health therapy for mood disorders. Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, is a type of CBT that focuses on modifying behaviors. When therapists combine these approaches, they help people discover causes and solutions. Service members learn how to cope with life, deal with triggers and change problematic behavior patterns that fuel addiction. There is also therapy approaches for dealing with past trauma. Additionally, supportive therapies can be beneficial. These may include exercise, nutrition, adventures or something else.

Dual Diagnosis Therapy

Dual diagnosis therapy is an important type of treatment for veterans and active-duty service members. Because the rates of mood disorders are so high among people in the military, this is often a type of therapy that professionals use. Dual diagnosis therapy treats mood disorders and substance use disorders at the same time. Some of the same therapeutic approaches are used to treat mood disorders. Since mood disorders often lead to addiction, treating them is especially important for preventing a relapse. People who receive treatment for only the addiction still leave a critical part of the addiction untreated. Many facilities today offer this valuable form of treatment.

Finding a Military Substance Abuse Program in New Jersey

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, we are here to help. We can help people who are currently serving or have served in the past. The Garden State Treatment Center team respects our country’s valuable service members and wants to help them discover ways to live fuller life. Our therapists are familiar with the unique and complex struggles of brave individuals who serve in the military and know how to develop treatment strategies that address all their needs. We offer dual diagnosis treatment, several outpatient structures, telehealth therapy, adventure therapy, and other supportive therapies. In addition to many other forms of insurance, we also accept Tricare. Please contact us to learn more about a military substance abuse program or our treatment options.

[1] https://www.samhsa.gov/smvf-ta-center
[2] https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/spot121-homeless-veterans-2014.pdf
[3] https://academic.oup.com/milmed/article/183/5-6/e258/4840543?login=false
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5587184/
[5] https://sr2.army.mil/PROD_PUBLIC/index.jsp
[6] https://www.armyresilience.army.mil/ASAP/pages/faq.html
[7] https://www.va.gov/
[8] https://stopsoldiersuicide.org/
[9] https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/substance-use-military-life


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