A Look at Veteran Inpatient Rehab
Serving in the military isn’t easy for active-duty personnel or their families. However, the return to civilian life poses challenges of its own. Adjustments range from finding housing as a private citizen to starting a new career in the private sector. There are also various mental health issues that are common for those who had chosen to serve their country. Sometimes, the most complex battles are the ones you struggle with at home.
Common Mental Health Issues During the Transition to Civilian Life
The problems faced by military veterans, which also impact those whose enlistment term is coming to a close, are myriad. One of the biggest is unemployment, followed by uncertainty about their place in the world. Those who have been in combat also struggle with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Each of these issues, especially when unaddressed or complicated by other factors, can cycle into clinical mental health problems and substance use disorders (SUDs).
These issues aren’t new, nor are they news to the military. In 1941, the Northport VA Medical Center opened a research lab with the goal of studying mental health issues that proliferate among active-duty military and veterans. In the years since, the government has tried to adjust and add services to address problems faced by military veterans as further research is conducted and new issues emerge.
However, the sheer number of military veterans needing services outstrips the resources and access to care. Many simply prefer to seek resources privately. Others are in denial about their issues and look for help only after they’re in crisis or at the urging of friends and family members.
Mental Health and Addiction Statistics Among Veterans
According to studies published by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), depression among active-duty military personnel is five times higher than in the civilian population. Adding battlefield injuries and conditions like PTSD to the mix, exponentially increases the likelihood of developing clinical depression and/or anxiety. In fact, suicide rates among active-duty or former military are at an all-time high, increasing by 25% in 2020 alone.
Whether as a comorbid condition or an attempt to self-medicate, the rates of substance use disorder are higher among active-duty and military veterans than rates among the civilian population. According to government statistics, one in 10 individuals seeking services at the VA meets the criteria for substance use disorder.
PTSD and Related Mental Health Problems
The issues facing veterans and their families are difficult to disentangle. Mental health and substance use disorders often go hand in hand, feeding off of each other.
Symptoms of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder, whether classic or complex, is a major mental health diagnosis for military and former military personnel. It can take weeks or months for symptoms to appear and years to manage effectively. The condition is often accompanied by comorbid disorders, like depression.
The symptoms include:
- Negative thoughts
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Social isolation and withdrawal
- Anger and aggressive behavior
- Trouble concentrating
- Sleep disturbances
- Self-destructive behavior
Signs of Substance Use Disorder
Some of the symptoms of SUD are the same as for other mental health issues. However, there are signs that you or someone close to you is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
- Changes in eating, sleep and hygiene habits
- Erratic or secretive behavior
- Feelings of exhilaration or overconfidence, often followed by a crash
- Preoccupation with medications, such as counting pills or anticipating the next dosage
- Dilated pupils
- Confusion or delusional behavior
Due to the complexity of mental health and substance use disorders, comprehensive treatment in a supportive environment offers the best hope for recovery. Inpatient treatment at a veterans rehab center is designed to provide the kind of assistance military veterans need.
What Is Inpatient Substance Use Treatment?
According to information from the VA, $2.7 billion of its budget is spent on ambulatory care due to substance use and related disorders. That total comprises more than 7% of their annual budget and includes hospitalization and home care.
Lack of funding and a high ratio of people needing care in relation to care providers mean that veterans must find other avenues for treatment. Inpatient care in a private facility fills a much-needed gap.
Inpatient rehab is similar to residential treatment in several ways. Both provide needed structure and separation from outside stressors and negative influences. You’re housed in an environment with recovery support and all the comforts of home.
However, inpatient treatment emphasizes the medical and therapeutic aspects of addiction recovery, including withdrawal and long-term recovery planning. You’ll enjoy 24/7 medical access in a controlled environment, a range of therapies and structured activities. Residential care focuses on providing a recovery community for those who need additional support in a sober living environment to cope with severe or long-term mental health/substance use issues.
Both types of rehab can be used alone or in support of each other. The type of facility you choose depends upon your individual situation and the input of your addiction treatment team.
Inpatient care is an intensive form of treatment for those who are in crisis or have little to no support network at home. Sometimes, it helps to step away from your situation so that you can focus on getting well again. Your stay can be just a few days or several months. Again, this is dependent on the nature and severity of your problems and any underlying health or mental health conditions.
Many individuals need detox only so they can remove all traces of drugs or alcohol from their system in a safe environment with medical support. These clients can complete their rehab with intensive outpatient treatment.
When you need more comprehensive treatment, diagnosis and care for comorbid conditions, and other services, inpatient rehab is recommended. Treatment takes a team approach comprised of doctors, nurses, psychotherapists, caseworkers and you. It usually involves three phases.
1. Early Stage Recovery Treatment: Detox and Abstinence
This is the most fragile and fraught period of SUD rehabilitation. You’ve admitted that there’s a problem and agreed to treatment, but the thought of facing life sober, not to mention the mental and physical distress associated with withdrawal, leads to discomfort.
Early stage treatment begins with abstinence from substances. Medically supervised withdrawal can include medications to deal with pain, anxiety and treatment for comorbid health problems. The idea is to stabilize the client and make them as comfortable as possible during the withdrawal phase. If opiate addiction is indicated, there may also be medically assisted treatment (MAT) with a substance like suboxone, buprenorphine or methadone. This period lasts from 24 hours up to a week.
2. Middle-Stage Addiction Treatment: Getting to the Root of Addiction
Once you’ve gone through the detoxification period and your condition is stabilized, your course of treatment will be charted in conjunction with input from your case manager and other addiction treatment specialists. During the beginning portion of this treatment phase, your decision-making and impulse-control mechanisms will still be affected.
This is where individual therapy will begin. The purpose is to identify the root causes that lead to addiction and learn new methods of coping with triggers and stressful influences. At our facility, therapists are trained to deal with the unique circumstances faced by military veterans. You’ll also receive a diagnosis and begin treatment for any comorbid conditions like PTSD, depression and anxiety.
Group therapy allows you to gain peer-to-peer support in a mediated environment. You’ll interact with other veterans who understand your issues and can provide insight from their own experiences with military life and difficulties during the transition from soldier to private citizen.
You’ll also have nutritional support to regain your health and provide a foundation for long-term recovery. Other services include family therapy, art therapy and organized activities. These will provide structure and act as a positive means of expressing your emotions and frustrations. You’ll also develop skills and perhaps pick up healthy hobbies to help you cope with boredom and other issues that could lead to relapse.
This phase typically lasts from 30 days to six months or more. Your participation depends on the length and severity of your SUD, as well as the degree of your participation and commitment to sobriety.
3. Late-Stage Addiction Treatment: Ongoing Support and Relapse Prevention
Before being discharged from inpatient treatment, we’ll begin working with you on an aftercare plan. Relapse prevention depends upon your commitment to recovery and access to ongoing support services.
We’ll help you come up with a plan to anticipate and prevent situations that could lead to relapse. That includes identifying triggers and dealing with outside influences, such as co-dependent relationships. You’ll also receive assistance with employment, ongoing therapy and medical maintenance if needed.
Those who aren’t quite ready to rejoin the real world can transition to a sober living facility. All are encouraged to continue with group therapy or join a 12-step program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Family members can find group support through these organizations, in addition to the services and resources available from VeteransRehab.org
This phase of treatment can last for a few months or continue for a lifetime. Many of those who have completed the active phase of rehab enjoy the camaraderie of group therapy and go on to sponsor others who are in recovery.
Any treatment you receive is completely confidential. Our only goal is to provide the services you need to manage substance use disorder and support long-term recovery.
Remember, rehabilitation is an ongoing process. We’ll be there to help you every step of the way.
Mental Health Resources for Veterans and Active-duty Military
The military mindset sometimes makes asking for help difficult. Soldiers and sailors act as part of a cohesive unit, but mental health problems often remain hidden as those who are afflicted suffer in silence. There’s also a stigma attached to admitting to problems with mental health and substance use.
You don’t need to fight this battle alone. If you or someone you care about is struggling with mental health or substance use disorders, help and hope are closer than you think. VeteransRehab.org offers free addiction treatment and mental health resources for active-duty personnel and military veterans.
It’s never too late for a new beginning. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us today.