Soldier sitting and talking to his therapist

Once their time in the military is complete, veterans must reintegrate into normal, everyday life. However, many veterans find this transition incredibly difficult and battle to regain a sense of normalcy and balanced mental wellness when facing the challenges of civilian life. 

In order to help veterans, it is crucial to understand the complexity of co-occurring disorders and the way in which treatment can only be effective if all underlying conditions are addressed.

What are co-occurring disorders?

Co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnosis, are two or more mental health conditions affecting an individual at the same time. Most often, it will manifest in the form of a mental health disorder like anxiety, depression or PTSD co-occurring with a substance use disorder. 

While there is no clear-cut answer to “What causes co-occurring disorders,” the experience of the struggling individual can shed light on the initial causes. For example, those who struggle with alcohol use disorder may also develop depression as a result of being unable to stop alcohol consumption on their own.

Another example would be veterans diagnosed with PTSD or those who have undiagnosed but equally serious experiences of trauma. Because of the intense symptoms and emotions trauma can elicit, many people seek to cope through the usage of drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. When this coping mechanism becomes uncontrollable, a co-occurring disorder, i.e. substance use disorder or addiction, can arise.

Do many veterans struggle with mental health and addiction?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 1.1 million veterans have both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder

While substances abused include nicotine, illicit drugs and prescription opioids, the most commonly abused substance is alcohol; similarly, veterans are not immune to battling depression and anxiety, but PTSD is the most common mental illness amongst this population.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “63 percent of those diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (AUD) or other SUD also had a diagnosis of PTSD. Among Veterans diagnosed with AUD and another SUD, the rate of PTSD diagnosis was 76 percent. During the past 10 years, the number of Veterans with comorbid SUD and PTSD in VA care has increased over three-fold; in 2012, the prevalence of PTSD among Veterans receiving specialized SUD care was 32 percent.”

This prevalence of co-occurring disorders may be linked to many factors, including the stigma of receiving treatment amongst the military community, the challenges of dealing with undiagnosed or unaddressed trauma and the battle of rejecting the temporary relief self-medicating mechanisms may briefly provide.

How are co-occurring disorders treated?

Oftentimes, professional treatment for co-occurring disorders is the only effective method of handling the root cause, the symptoms and the triggers. Because of the complexity of addressing two (or more) diagnoses at once, individuals best recover under the guidance of a professional mental health therapist.

This form of therapy, where two conditions are addressed simultaneously is known as integrative therapy and is often recommended as the standard of care for dual diagnosis. Certain methods of behavioral therapy, including motivational therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and others are used to address the root cause of the disorders and help foster appropriate coping mechanisms.

Numerous benefits exist for veterans (and others) who pursue this method of therapy, including:

  • Reduced relapse rates – If only one condition is addressed, relapse is much more of a risk, but if both the SUD and mental health disorder are focused on simultaneously, the risk of slipping back into unhealthy coping mechanisms is greatly reduced
  • Longer lasting results – Integrative treatment focuses on attacking the root cause, not the symptoms, so recovery is proven to be more effective and sustainable as a result
  • Increased motivation – As participants work through the stages of recovery, they will begin to see improvement in their quality of life, and may experience greater motivation to continue pursuing healthy habits

Because co-occurring disorder treatment addresses all of the concerns individuals have regarding their mental health, recovery is likely to be more cohesive. When both addictions and mental health disorders are addressed, clients are likely to benefit greatly from this holistic (i.e. whole body and mind) form of treatment.

Treatment for veterans

Silvermist Recovery is a proud partner of the Veterans Affairs Community Care Network (VA-CCN), which are pre-approved facilities that accept veteran benefits and TRICARE, giving veterans timely and convenient access to behavioral healthcare. Each facility in the Community Care Network (CNN) uses industry-standard practices to administer treatment and quickly pay for services.

For those veterans seeking care for co-occurring disorders, Silvermist Recovery is here to help. Contact our offices today to learn more.