Whether you’re just returning from active duty or your last tour ended years ago, service-related stress is a major concern for military personnel. Participating in active combat, witnessing natural disasters and losing fellow service members can all cause heightened stress levels, leading to substance use disorders or PTSD.

Anyone can develop a substance abuse problem, but veterans have some unique experiences that make them more likely to drink excessively or use illicit drugs. Military personnel who sustain service-related injuries also have a higher risk of developing addictions to opioids and other prescription medications.

In the 2015 Health-Related Behaviors Survey, less than 1% of active-duty military members reported illicit drug use within the previous year. This sounds promising, but the actual rate of drug abuse among active-duty military members may be much higher, as the survey relies on self-reporting. Respondents may have been afraid to be honest about their drug use because of concerns over how the information would be used. Additionally, the survey had a response rate of just 8.6%, indicating that many people who received the survey didn’t complete it.

The prevalence of drug use is higher among veterans, with 3.5% reporting they’d used marijuana within the previous year and 1.7% reporting they’d used other illicit substances during the same period.

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Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment For Veterans in Arizona, Oregon, and Texas

Although it’s legal to drink alcoholic beverages, excessive alcohol use can have serious physical, psychological, and legal consequences. Researchers estimate that 15% to 20% of active-duty service members engage in heavy drinking, which is defined as consuming five or more drinks at a time at least once per week. Heavy drinking is much more common in male service members than female service members.

Veterans are also more likely to use alcohol or engage in heavy drinking than civilians. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 56.6% of veterans surveyed reported using alcohol during a one-month period, with 7.5% of the respondents disclosing that they’d engaged in heavy drinking. In contrast, only 50.8% of the civilian population reported using alcohol during the same one-month period

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Risk Factors for Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Service members have an elevated risk of developing substance abuse problems due to the trauma they encounter in the line of duty. For example, combat veterans may witness the deaths of dozens or even hundreds of fellow service members or civilians. Military personnel may also be required to respond to terrorist attacks, natural disasters and other traumatic situations.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, many veterans with PTSD try to cope with their symptoms by drinking, misusing prescription drugs or engaging in illicit drug use. When a service member has PTSD and a substance use disorder at the same time, they’re said to have co-occurring disorders.

Negative Effects of Substance Abuse

If you’ve been struggling with substance abuse, you know that it affects every facet of your life, from your overall health to your relationships with friends and family members. Although cirrhosis is one of the most well-known physical effects of alcohol addiction, heavy drinking can affect many parts of your body. Binge drinking or drinking daily over a long period of time can cause irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), high blood pressure and a heart condition called cardiomyopathy.

Alcohol addiction has serious effects on the liver and pancreas, two key components of your digestive system. Chronic alcoholism may cause cirrhosis, a condition characterized by scarring of the liver. The scarring prevents the liver from working properly. Drinking heavily may also cause proteins to build up in the liver, a condition known as fibrosis.

Alcohol abuse may even lead to pancreatitis, a painful condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed. Because your pancreas produces enzymes used to break down food, pancreatitis interferes with digestion.

Drugs can affect almost any part of the body, especially if you take more than one drug at a time. It’s difficult to anticipate the severity of these side effects as your reaction to a drug depends on many factors, including how much you take, when you take it and whether you mix it with other substances.

Some of the most serious effects involve the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack and abnormal heart rhythm. Injecting drugs can also cause infections in the blood vessels and valves of the heart.

Using illicit drugs or misusing prescription drugs can also cause the following physical effects:

  • Lung damage

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Dehydration

  • Abdominal pain

  • Kidney damage

  • Liver damage

  • Seizures

  • Infertility

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans

If you have post-traumatic stress disorder, it can be difficult to return to civilian life. You may have flashbacks or other signs of trauma, but you’re still expected to hold down a job and maintain your personal relationships. In some people, a stress reaction doesn’t occur until months or even years after the traumatic event, which can make it even harder to get used to civilian life again.

Service-related stress reactions can cause difficulty sleeping, sudden bouts of anger, panic attacks, anxiety disorders and behavioral changes. These symptoms may worsen when you encounter certain triggers or on the anniversary of a traumatic event.

PTSD may also cause the following symptoms:

  • Distressing memories

  • Nightmares

  • Physical distress

  • Hopelessness

  • Negative thoughts

  • Lack of interest in your favorite activities

  • Memory problems

  • Emotional detachment

  • Feelings of shame or guilt

  • Excessive drinking

  • Risky behavior

Physical Trauma in Service Members

Serving in the military is mentally and physically demanding. Based on data from the 2010 Current Population Survey Veterans Supplement, 24% of veterans who served on active duty have some type of disability due to a service-related injury or medical condition. The Army Public Health Center also reports that almost 50% of service members sustain at least one injury each year.

Participating in combat increases the risk for several types of injuries, including shrapnel wounds, broken bones, third-degree burns, nerve damage, limb loss and spinal cord damage. Serving on active duty also exposes service members to harsh conditions, increasing the risk of heat stroke and respiratory problems.

Even if you don’t take part in active combat, serving in the military increases the risk for overuse injuries caused by repetitive motions. These injuries include stress fractures, strains and sprains. Carrying heavy equipment can also lead to back and shoulder injuries. Pain from these chronic injuries is one of the triggers that can lead to excessive drinking or drug use.

Traumatic Brain Injuries in Veterans

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) usually occurs when someone sustains a blow to the head. Members of the Armed Forces have a higher risk of TBI because they work under harsh conditions. Explosions, motor vehicle accidents and serious falls can all occur in the line of duty, resulting in a TBI that causes lasting effects.

The symptoms of TBI vary based on the severity of the injury. If you have a service-related TBI, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness

  • Memory problems

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Hearing problems

  • Mood changes

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Loss of taste or smell

Having a traumatic brain injury also increases the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in veterans. The risk is especially high in service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, as up to 23% of these men and women sustain some type of TBI in combat. Veterans with a moderate to severe TBI are more than twice as likely as veterans without TBI to die by suicide, making suicide prevention an important aspect of veteran health care.

The Importance of Residential Treatment

If you’re struggling with addiction, residential treatment is your best chance at a long-term recovery. Residential treatment is a little different from inpatient treatment because it occurs in a comfortable, homelike environment. In contrast, inpatient treatment occurs in a secure hospital unit, creating a clinical environment that can make it difficult to feel comfortable enough to share your experiences with others.

At Virtue Recovery Center, staff members have extensive experience working with veterans and first responders. Our addiction treatment program is customized to meet the needs of veterans with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and chronic pain related to their service. Whether you need drug rehab or alcohol rehab, we can customize a treatment plan that meets your physical and emotional needs

When you arrive at our treatment center, you’ll go through an intake process that helps us determine the best way to treat your addiction and any other mental health issues you have. We’ll discuss your military service, go over your medical history and ask questions about your substance use. With this information, we’ll tailor our alcohol and drug rehab program just for you.

Many veterans and first responders need medical detoxification (“detox”) before they receive therapy and other addiction treatment services. Detox is the process of eliminating alcohol, prescription drugs and illicit substances from your body. It typically lasts up to seven days, but it may take more or less time depending on how long you’ve been using and whether you have any health conditions that could affect the amount of time it takes your body to break down drugs and alcohol.

Once you complete detox, you’ll be ready for individual therapy, group therapy and other services offered by the staff at our treatment center. During individual therapy sessions, you’ll work through your trauma with a therapist who has extensive experience helping veterans and first responders with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and substance abuse. Your therapist will work with you to develop healthy coping skills that can help you refrain from drug and alcohol use when you leave the treatment center.

Virtue Recovery Center also offers eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a type of therapy that helps people with PTSD heal from their trauma. Therapists use proven EMDR processes to help veterans heal their traumatic wounds so they can begin living in the moment and enjoying all life has to offer.

When your residential addiction treatment comes to an end, you’ll have access to a variety of services designed to help you return to the community without relapsing. Your case manager will work with you to develop an aftercare plan that may include legal services, 12-step meetings and ongoing counseling, all of which can help you achieve long-term recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.


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Michael Morgan

Veterans Affairs Coordinator

Michael Morgan was 29 years in uniform and participated in multiple combat deployments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. The first half of Michael Morgan’s military career was spent on the conventional side. He then switched to an assignment with the Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg North Carolina. In addition to Michael’s military service, both of Michael’s adult sons are currently serving in the Army.

Michael’s current passions are directed at supporting the community that has been so good to him for the last 29 years. It saddens him to see so many of his Brothers and Sisters take their lives, struggle every day with addiction and mental health disorders then become houseless. Michael understands and knows there is more he can do to help and made the decision to join the team at Virtue Recovery to become more of a driving force and have that direct impact on those that need support and assistance to navigate the process. To contact Michael Directly for assistance with treatment for a Veteran, please call 866-594-1791

Justin Crawford

VA Coordinator
Justin has worked in the mental health field for over 15 years. He received his Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Arizona State University and his Associate Degree in Nursing from South Puget Sound Community College. Justin was a former Sergeant in the United States Army. After leaving his military service, he began nursing school and a career of helping other Veterans. Justin worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs as a mental health nurse from 2008-2021. During his time at the VA, he worked in many different clinical settings to include inpatient mental health, community mental health, and nursing education. He was nominated for and awarded the national Secretary of Veterans Affairs Hands and Heart Award for his excellence in patient care. Justin is passionate about helping Veterans, and getting them connected to the appropriate clinical services. In his off time, Justin enjoys fishing, camping, and spending time with friends.