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What Are Co-Occurring Disorders? PTSD, Anxiety, & Depression In Vets

By Acqua Recovery on April, 28 2022


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It’s a common saying among those in recovery that addiction is “cunning, baffling, and powerful.” That is only more true when addiction is compounded by mental, emotional, or behavioral health issues. Furthermore, we know today that this challenging mix is actually more common than not: Addiction is generally the symptom of deeper issues that need treatment. So, what exactly is a co-occurring disorder and how does it relate to PTSD, anxiety, depression, and addiction in veterans?

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders? 

Also known as “dual diagnosis,” co-occurring disorders are used to describe people who have a substance use disorder along with at least one other mental health issue. These disorders are often categorized into three subsets: psychiatric disorders (PTSD, anxiety, etc.), medical disorders (chronic pain, traumatic brain injury), and psychosocial (homelessness, incarceration).

For example, an individual struggling with addiction may also be dealing with the after-effects of childhood trauma. Or, they may be desperately self-medicating to calm the symptoms of PTSD. There’s no limit to the amount of disorders that one such individual may face, and indeed, it is very common that several exist in a tangled mix. 

Co-Occurring Disorders & Addiction

Addiction is often the result of an individual’s attempts to self-medicate co-occurring disorders. For that reason, addiction must be treated in concert with those illnesses. It is impossible to identify and treat the underlying mental health issues without the clouding effects of substances like drugs and alcohol. At the same time, it is impossible to ever find lasting recovery from addiction if the underlying mental issues causing an individual pain are not treated and healed. Far too many people fall victim to the vicious cycle of addiction because they are not aware of this fact. Luckily, trauma-informed addiction treatment with a focus on co-occurring disorders is increasingly the norm among reputable addiction treatment programs, and it has been shown to be effective. Acqua Recovery tracks the success rate of such treatment. You can review our outcomes report for clients with co-occurring disorders HERE.

Co-Occurring Disorders in Veterans

Sadly, those who defend our country are often most at risk for developing co-occurring disorders. One of the first studies to highlight this was conducted shortly after the Vietnam War. An analysis of Vietnam War vets found that 75% of male vets with a diagnosis of PTSD also suffered from alcohol abuse, 44% suffered from generalized anxiety disorder, and more than 20% suffered from depression.

The reason why? Combat often leaves deep physical and emotional scars. Even veterans who do not see combat, though, frequently suffer emotional trauma due to their experiences.

PTSD & Veterans

Luckily, doctors are increasingly aware of the effects of PTSD on veterans, which has led to increased scientific study and treatment advancements. The numbers vary depending on the nature of each study’s participant, but as many as 35% of veterans may suffer from PTSD at any given time. (That’s compared to just 6.8% incidence of PTSD in the general population.) One 2014 study found that 87% of veterans experienced at least one traumatic event, with most experiencing an average of 3.4. It’s no wonder that these heroes need help to heal.

Treating PTSD & Depression in Veterans

How can we help those who are suffering in this way? The federal government’s Institute of Medicine convened a Committee on the Ongoing Effects of PTSD to explore the issue and the conclusion was clear:

"Given the complexity of those mental health and psychosocial problems, treatment approaches need to provide complex solutions. The committee finds that treatment for co-occurring conditions and functional impairments is critical for the success of treatment of all service members and veterans who have PTSD.

According to the committee’s report, that could include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medication, talk therapy, and more. At Acqua Recovery, our Masters-level clinicians create a custom care plan for every client incorporating a variety of treatment modalities designed to help every individual heal his or her unique mix of addiction and co-occurring disorders. At the same time, they take a trauma-informed approach to all treatment, bringing empathy, care, and understanding to every stage of the process. That’s why Acqua Recovery is where science meets sanctuary — a place where you can renew your hope for a better life and reconnect with the person that you really are underneath the pain. Call us or send a chat to learn more about how to get started.

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acqua recovery veterans guide to addiction treatment

A Veterans Guide to Addiction Treatment

This is the land of the free because of the brave. However, bravery comes with a price. Too often, the very ones who fight for our country are left with deep physical and emotional scars that seem impossible to heal. Among those is the disease of addiction.

If you are a veteran struggling with addiction or have a loved one who is, you are not alone. Even if it doesn’t seem like there is a way out, recovery from substance use disorder is possible for anyone and we are committed to giving our veterans the support and tools they need to find it.