Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition that affects some people who have experienced a shocking, dangerous, or frightening event such as death, injury, or violence.1 While experiencing fear during and after a traumatic event is common, those people who continue to struggle with the stress or fear over the long term, even when they are not in danger, may be dealing with PTSD.1
Common triggering events for PTSD include exposure to combat conditions, abuse, physical and sexual assault, illness, loss of a loved one ,and natural disasters.1 Symptoms of PTSD often arise within 3 months of the traumatic incident, but it is also possible for them to develop even years later.1
Symptoms must persist for more than a month and be extreme enough to cause conflict with work or relationships to support a diagnosis of PTSD.1 In order for a doctor to diagnose a patient with PTSD, a patient must have at least one symptom from each of the following categories for at least 1 month:1,2
- A reexperiencing symptom: This includes flashbacks, bad dreams, or frightening thoughts.
- An avoidance symptom: This includes avoiding places/events/objects that remind the patient of the experience, and avoiding thoughts/feelings connected to the event.
- Arousal and reactivity symptoms: This includes easily startling, feeling tense, struggling to sleep, and angry outbursts.
- Cognition and mood symptoms: This includes difficulty remembering key aspects of the event, a loss of interest in pleasurable activities, bad thoughts about oneself, distorted feelings (guilt, blame).
Although the effects of PTSD often last a lifetime, they can be mitigated with professional treatment.
Veterans, PTSD, and Substance Abuse
While people from all walks of life can develop PTSD, one group that more often struggles with this disorder is veterans. Several factors may increase the likelihood that someone will develop PTSD, including whether the person has experienced a high-intensity or long-lasting trauma or is injured during the event.3 For veterans, an IED explosion, the death of a fellow Service member, or military sexual trauma are all experiences that may lead to PTSD.2
The number of veterans who have PTSD in a given year varies based on service era.4
- Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom: 11-20 of every 100
- Gulf War: 12 of every 100
- Vietnam War: 15 of every 100 (with 30 of every 100 having had PTSD at some point in their lifetime)
Both combat and sexual harassment or assault are causes for PTSD for those who have served. Of those veterans who are receiving VA health care, 23 out of 100 women reported sexual assault and 55 out of 100 women and 38 out of 100 men experienced sexual harassment while in the military.4
In addition to dealing with PTSD, there are veterans who are also dealing with alcohol and drug abuse and substance use disorders (SUDs). In fact, some veterans turn to alcohol or drugs in an effort to deal with the symptoms of PTSD.5 Some signs and symptoms of SUD include an inability to stop drinking or using drugs regardless of the consequences, feeling sick when drug/alcohol use ceases, and an increased tolerance so that more alcohol/drugs are need to obtain the same effect as previously.5 When veterans are looking for treatment for PTSD, they might also need to look into a facility that addresses co-occurring disorders so they can receive treatment for both their PTSD and their SUD.
What Can Treatment Offer?
Even with the most supportive loved ones, it can be difficult to find the kind of understanding you need to recover if you don’t speak with a professional. Mental health treatment facilities are staffed with professionals who understand the nuances and complexities of the struggles you are facing. They have been trained to deal with flashbacks and help individuals cope with the painful memories of traumatic events.
Many treatment approaches include group therapy sessions so you can interact with others who have PTSD when you are ready. From group therapy to casual activities, just being surrounded by other PTSD survivors will help you know that you are not alone and facilitate the recovery process. Social support is essential to recovery long after you leave treatment. A major goal of a treatment center is to provide you with a support network that you can lean on after you return home.
Choosing a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Treatment Program
An estimated 7 or 8 of every 100 people (7-8% of the population) will deal with PTSD at some point in their lives, with 10 of every 100 women and 4 of every 100 men developing PTSD.6 Around 8 million adults have PTSD in any given year, and you may be one of them, but the disorder doesn’t have to rule your life.6
If you have experienced a traumatic event and you are aware of the common signs and symptoms of PTSD in your daily life, you can get help. Call 1-888-319-2606 Helpline Information to speak to one of our admissions navigators about types of treatment that we offer for co-occurring disorders, including PTSD. They are available 24/7 to take your call and help you get started on the long but rewarding journey to recovery.
Care for Veterans with PTSD through the MISSION Act
Veterans who are struggling with PTSD, and with a SUD, can receive quality care and treatment through VA. However, there may be a lack of availability or accessibility at VA treatment centers for some veterans who are seeking treatment for both their mental health issues and their substance use disorders. In an effort to make care available for as many veterans as possible, VA introduced the MISSION Act, which expands veteran access to health care both in VA facilities and from general providers in the community.7
In order to receive care from other facilities, veterans need approval from VA. With that approval, based on eligibility requirements, availability of VA care, and their own needs, those veterans are then able to pursue PTSD treatment, as well as SUD rehabilitation, through community care.8 VA approval allows veterans to obtain treatment from private rehab centers in their communities.
Care outside of VA is only available to veterans via VA-approved community care providers (CCPs). American Addiction Centers’ Desert Hope and Recovery First are both approved VA CCPs. Each facility has Salute to Recovery programs that were created specifically to treat veterans with both SUDs and mental health disorders. Treatment includes pain management, relapse prevention, trauma groups, grief and loss, recreational therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and emotion regulation. Many of the staff at both facilities are veterans themselves and can provide a safe, supportive environment for veterans to discuss their experiences and struggles.
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2019). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Mental Health: PTSD.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2020). PTSD: National Center for PTSD: PTSD Basics.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2018). PTSD: National Center for PTSD: How Common is PTSD in Veterans?
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Mental Health: Substance Use.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). PTSD: National Center for PTSD: How Common is PTSD in Adults?
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2020). VA MISSION Act.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Community Care.
You are never too old to improve your health and quality of life!