Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance use and mental health disorders are strongly associated with one another. Veterans with drug and/or alcohol use disorders frequently meet the diagnostic criteria for co-occurring mental illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. In fact, veterans with substance use disorders are 3-4x more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD or depression. In addition, veterans may begin to use drugs or alcohol to cope with symptoms or stressors related to mental health conditions. This is also known as dual diagnosis.

PTSD and substance use disorders in veterans

Co-occurring disorders or dual diagnoses are common in veterans with PTSD. The same experiences that leave veterans susceptible to developing PTSD also make them more likely to develop a substance use disorder or addiction. Data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) shows 80% of people with PTSD meet the diagnostic criteria for one or more additional mental health conditions.

After deployment, war and the stressors of military life, veterans may turn to substances in order to feel better, cope with anxiety and feelings of sadness and escape the reality of what they’ve seen and experienced.

Examples of mental health related and medical issues that may co-occur with PTSD include:

  • Suicidality
  • Night terrors or other sleep problems
  • Substance use
  • Moral injury
  • Neurocognitive problems
  • Anger and violent behavior
  • Pain and physical health problems

People with PTSD are also more prone to problems functioning, reduced quality of life and relationship issues.

Upset young woman in camouflage clothes sits on the floor in a bright room near the sofa

Suicide and substance use in veterans

Substance use and suicide are correlated among military servicemembers. Since 2003, about 30% of army suicides and 45% of suicide attempts involved alcohol or drug use. There is also a potential link between opioid pain reliever use and suicide. A 2017 VA study of veterans showed that those receiving the highest doses of painkillers were more than twice as likely to die by suicide compared with those receiving the lowest doses.

Veteran-specific treatment for co-occurring disorders

Veterans can find relief from co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders at Pyramid Military Therapy & Recovery Programs. Our clinical staff use evidence-based practices such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and acceptance & commitment therapy (ACT) to address substance use disorders and underlying trauma and mental health problems simultaneously. Our research-backed treatment curriculum uses polyvagal theory to help veterans become aware of the connection between mind and body and develop ways to calm the nervous system when experiencing anxiety.

Our residential veteran recovery program for individuals with co-occurring disorders gets to the root cause of substance use and mental health symptoms and provides veterans with the skills needed to lead a healthy, fulfilling life.

A mid adult woman shares an informational handout for veterans with an army vet in a wheelchair.

Get Help Today

If you or someone you care about is a veteran struggling with mental health, substance use or both, you’re not alone. Recovery is possible. Reach out to Pyramid Military Therapy & Recovery today to learn more about our personalized, evidence-based treatment programs.