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The Link Between PTSD, Depression, and Addiction in Military Veterans

September 13, 2018 - , - 1 Comments


Did you know that approximately 20% of military veterans who have served in Afghanistan or Iraq (along with other combat missions) suffer from extreme and severe depression or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)? With millions of vets struggling to overcome PTSD and depression, there is a much greater risk of turning to drugs and alcohol in order to cope with a decline of mental health. Whether an individual has served in the Air Force, the Marines, or the Army, seeking proper treatment is essential to overcome potentially life-threatening scenarios. Understanding the link between PTSD, depression, and addiction in military veterans is a way to help locate the right dual-diagnosis center to begin focusing on treatments and recovery options for a brighter, healthier, and more fulfilling future.

Understanding PTSD and Severe Depression

PTSD, also known as post-traumatic stress disorder, often stems from extremely traumatic experiences ranging from combat in a war to sexual assaults, physical injuries, and the loss of friends or loved ones. PTSD is common among those who have served in the military, impacting millions of lives and families each day.

Long-term effects of PTSD can include:

  • Graphic, intense, and recurring nightmares are one of the most common long-term psychological effects of PTSD in military vets. Veterans who experience nightmares often find themselves reliving horrific incidents, accidents, and life-threatening situations, triggering outbursts and/or the inability to control their emotions or emotional responses when in the moment. Many veterans report experiencing the same feelings and emotions as they originally did when the nightmare occurred in their waking life.

  • Insomnia. For veterans who have trouble sleeping due to the fear of recurring nightmares, night sweats, or waking up with increased anxiety and panic attacks, insomnia is possible. While short-term insomnia occurs in individuals who are not struggling with PTSD and depression at times, it can become extremely dangerous for those who are running from their current state of mental health. Long-term insomnia leads to heart issues, breathing trouble, and in some cases, it can become a catalyst for a mental breakdown or an episode of psychosis.
  • Increased anger is also possible and more likely for vets who have experienced traumatic events during combat and when fighting a war. Angry outbursts are common among those who have not yet addressed the true source of their anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Increased anger is more prevalent among veterans who suffer from depression and PTSD due to the inability to seek help or the lack of knowledge regarding available resources nearby for proper guidance, counseling, and treatment.
  • Jumpy behavior and shakiness is also a notable long-term effect of PTSD among veterans, especially those whose PTSD and depression have stemmed from combat. Vets who suffer from PTSD are often easily startled and may have a difficult time feeling comfortable in new and unfamiliar environments.  Shakiness in the hands and feeling uneasy or incapable of staying still in new situations is common in those who are suffering from severe PTSD and are still experiencing the emotions and memories of the traumatic events they have experienced.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse manifests in military vets more often than not due to the inability to seek help or the unwillingness to reach out for assistance during trying times. Veterans have an increased risk of turning to alcohol and drug abuse to help with numbing and forgetting the trauma they have experienced. In many cases, vets turn to opioids and dangerous drugs such as methamphetamine and benzodiazepines such as Xanax to help with easing pain and to avoid confronting the issues that have caused them to feel helpless and hopeless with regards to moving on to a better future.


Severe depression has many ways of manifesting and appearing in a veteran’s everyday life and often varies with each individual and their own experiences. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of severe depression include:


  • Increased drowsiness and the ability to sleep much longer than what is typically required. Sleeping more than usual is a telltale sign of depression (along with other ailments that are impacting hormones or the circadian rhythm in the body).
  • A loss of interest in hobbies and activities that were once a source of joy is also extremely common among veterans who are faced with severe and long-lasting depression. Those who find themselves severely depressed may find it increasingly difficult to partake in hobbies and activities that they once loved and enjoyed.
  • A decline in socializing and the inability to maintain relationships with friends and loved ones almost always occurs in those struggling with severe depression. When an individual is depressed or feeling suicidal, they are more likely to pull away from relationships to feel less guilt, shame, and judgment surrounding their current mental state. Depressed and suicidal veterans often avoid spending time with loved ones as they do not feel a sense of normalcy that was once commonplace before heading to war or experiencing PTSD.
  • Lack of focus occurs in vets with PTSD and depression, especially when the issues at hand are not confronted and instead are ignored or avoided. Without focus, it becomes increasingly challenging for veterans to maintain a full-time job, relationships, and a positive outlook for their futures which include both short and long-term goals.
  • Suicidal ideation is extremely life-threatening in veterans, with approximately 22 veteran suicides occurring throughout the United States each day. The staggering number is attributed to vets who are simply unable to seek help or unwilling to admit they are struggling due to the stigma surrounding the military and mental health. While the stigma surrounding mental health has drastically shifted in recent years, it is still difficult for many veterans to admit they are in need of help due to the overall nature of the military.

Common Addictions Among Vets  low-angled photography of U.S.A. flag on pole

 Addictions among vets vary with each individual and range from traditional alcohol abuse to classic overuse of pills such as opioids. In extreme cases, veterans may turn to use illegal street drugs such as methamphetamine and heroin in order to cope with the pain they are experiencing and to help with alleviating some of the symptoms they have due to PTSD and severe depression. When individuals do not have adequate mental and emotional support during serious episodes of depression and PTSD, they are much more likely to combine the use of multiple drugs and alcohol in order to achieve the ability to simply “block out” memories of pain and trauma.

Reasons a Veteran May Avoid Seeking Help

While some veterans are able to open up immediately about the trauma and pain they have experienced, it is not the case for all enrolled members of the military. The US military prides itself on strength, commitment, and the determination to never quit, which is why so many vets simply avoid seeking the help they need once they are home from combat and settling back into their lives as civilians. Some reasons a veteran may avoid seeking professional help and treatment for their addiction (along with their PTSD and depression) include:


  • Pride: Pride plays a major role in the US military, regardless of which branch an individual has served in. Military veterans pride themselves on remaining strong and stoic for their country and loved ones, preventing them from admitting they are struggling with an addiction, regardless of how many obstacles they face with their own depression and PTSD. The fear of being viewed as “weak” by family, friends, loved ones, and even other members of the military is also a factor to keep in mind when determining why a veteran is simply not attempting to seek help.
  • Embarrassment is another issue that many veterans face when turning to addiction. If a military vet has experienced mental disabilities or learning impairments due to combat, they are less likely to reach out and admit their struggles.
  • Addiction: With an extreme addiction to alcohol, drugs, or prescription pills such as benzos, individuals are much less likely to feel motivated to seek help as they feel they already have their escape and “medicine”. Addiction is extremely serious and can become physical when individuals are using opiates such as heroin or dabbling in long-term use of alcohol. Many individuals struggling with addiction find themselves in denial of having a problem as the substances themselves help to improve mood while forgetting about the root cause of the depression and PTSD in their lives.
  • A lack of resources is another common reason why veterans simply do not seek out help from local rehab centers or vet support groups. In some cases, a veteran may have experienced a TBI (traumatic brain injury), making it extremely challenging to think clearly or find help and assistance. When an individual is incapable of researching local support groups, rehab facilities, or outpatient programs, they are less likely to partake in any form of action regarding the betterment of their health.
  • Long wait times keep vets from seeking help, even if they are in dire need. Contacting a local vet office or rehab center is highly advisable to learn more about available resources near an area of a vet in need to expedite the help process.
  • Some vets also experience a fear of not being able to serve in the military any longer once disclosing their depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction issues. While in the past the military viewed mental health as a physical impairment, today it is more important than ever to speak up and seek the help necessary to overcome internal struggles faced due to going to war or fighting in combat.

Choosing a Rehab Center and Program

Veterans who have served in the US military are provided with TRI-Care healthcare, which is considered the “gold standard” of medical care available today. With TRI-Care, vets are able to seek out medical attention, therapy, and counseling to assist with the process of overcoming an addiction or to manage pain properly and under supervision. With TRI-Care, choosing a rehab center and program greatly depends on the individual’s needs and whether or not they currently have an emotional support system in place. Before choosing a rehab center or facility that is optimal, it is important to understand all of the resources that are currently available.


silhouette photo of man on cliff during sunset
Holistic Approaches

Rehab centers that focus on implementing a holistic approach when assisting vets who have a severe addiction to pills, benzodiazepines, opioids, methamphetamine, or even alcohol, have various methods to work with patients based on their individual needs. Holistic approaches when working with veterans struggling to overcome an addiction range from traditional counseling and therapy to CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and improving current habits and overall lifestyles.

Inpatient Rehabilitation Centers

Inpatient rehabilitation centers require patients to live on the premises of a facility for a set period of time (which typically ranges anywhere from 30 days to more than 6 months). With an inpatient rehab center, veterans are able to relearn how to live life with a routine and without access to drugs and alcohol.

Doctors, psychologists, and counselors are readily available to help veterans get their lives back on track without putting their overall health at risk during the detoxing process. Inpatient rehab solutions are optimal for those who do not currently have a strong mental and emotional support system such as family, friends, and co-workers to remain by their side while in the process of returning to sobriety.

Outpatient Rehab Programs  

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While inpatient rehab facilities are great for military veterans who are struggling with severe isolation, depression, and PTSD, there are also outpatient rehab programs to choose from that specialize in assisting vets. Outpatient rehab programs do not require veterans to live in a rehab facility, and instead, offer group meetings, individual counseling, and the ability to connect with other vets who have similar experiences with PTSD, depression, and addiction. 

With a thorough understanding of the link between PTSD, depression, and addiction, help veterans in your life find the peace and solace they deserve. Ridding an addiction to alcohol, pills, and street drugs such as heroin is a way to begin living a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life. Knowing how PTSD, depression, and addiction are all linked is essential to truly overcome the root cause of pain in the lives of veterans throughout their journey to sobriety.




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