9 Therapies That Can Help Veterans Overcome Addiction

addiction therapy for veteransVeterans often deal with lasting effects from their time in the military and the trauma they endured. Unfortunately, these lasting effects often cause them to begin abusing drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms.

Up to 11% of veterans seeking first-time care with the VA healthcare system meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. Additionally, 30% of veterans who commit suicide are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.[1]

Overcoming addiction isn’t easy, but with individually tailored therapies designed with the needs of veterans in mind, anyone can achieve recovery. Nine therapies that can help veterans beat drug and alcohol addiction are:

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

One of the first lines of treatment for veterans suffering from addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy has been demonstrated as effective for a wide range of conditions, including depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, marital problems, eating disorders, and severe mental illness.[2]

CBT uses a hands-on approach to overcoming negative patterns of thinking that are rooted in traumatic experiences. The ways CBT can help veterans overcome negative thinking and behavioral patterns include:

  • Learning to recognize distorted patterns of thinking
  • Using problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations
  • Developing confidence in their abilities to overcome struggles and hardships
  • Facing fears rather than avoiding them
  • Using role-play to prepare for unwanted situations
  • Learning how to self-regulate emotions to avoid unhelpful behaviors

2. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy that was developed to help people overcome trauma. It can be effective in treating conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that are common among veterans who struggle with addiction.

EMDR encourages individuals to briefly focus on a traumatic memory while experiencing bilateral stimulation.[3] Bilateral stimulation leads to a reduction in the vividness of the memory and lowers the negative emotions that surround their trauma.

3. Prolonged Exposure (PE)

Prolonged exposure (PE) therapy is a therapeutic technique that is used to help someone lower the amount of stress associated with something traumatic to them. This technique works by having individuals gradually approach memories related to trauma in a safe setting to show individuals that their trauma should be addressed head-on, rather than avoided.[4]

Initially, all of the therapy will be done under the direction of a therapist. Clients will describe their trauma in a safe setting where their therapist can guide them and help them overcome any emotions that arise. Eventually, they will also engage in in vivo exposure, which means they will have homework assignments that allow them to confront feared stimuli outside of therapy.

4. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) was created to help manage borderline personality disorder (BPD), a mental health condition characterized by an inability to self-regulate emotions, severe abandonment issues stemming from childhood trauma, and unstable relationships.[5] However, this type of therapy can be effective in helping people with a wide range of emotional issues, especially when they stem from traumatic events.

DBT works by teaching clients to accept their thoughts and feelings, identify problematic behaviors, and use coping skills to change negative patterns of thoughts or behavior. While DBT is based on cognitive behavioral therapy, it focuses more on the emotional and social aspects of living.

5. Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is a type of in-depth talk therapy that helps clients understand their negative feelings or repressed emotions associated with trauma. Healing repressed emotions can improve interpersonal experiences and relationships with others.

During psychodynamic therapy, clients will learn how to identify current difficulties they are facing through in-depth exploration of their past experiences, trauma, and emotions.[6]

6. Trauma-Informed Group Counseling

Trauma-informed group counseling is a type of therapy that involves participation among peers. The group will be moderated by a professional therapist who controls the topics and ensures that conversations remain safe and supportive.

During trauma-informed group counseling, clients collaborate with their peers to develop healthy coping mechanisms, share how trauma has affected their lives, and support each other while developing interpersonal relationship skills.

7. Equine Therapy

Equine therapy is a holistic approach to treating trauma that involves a professional therapist guiding clients through activities with horses. Clients may care for horses, ride them, or create a beneficial relationship with a horse.

Equine therapy can help clients develop self-empowerment, trust, and compassion through relationships with an animal. During this type of therapy, individuals can become more in control over their emotions, process past traumas, and learn how to change negative patterns of behavior.

A study published by the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry found that the veterans included in their research overwhelmingly benefited from equine therapy. The article states, “More than 50 percent of the participants showed a marked reduction in PTSD and depression at post-treatment and at the three-month follow-up.”[7]

8. Art and Music Therapy

Oftentimes, it can be difficult for veterans to verbalize the trauma that has caused them to develop an addiction. Since these memories are painful, sometimes it is easier to engage in therapy that does not require them to discuss intimate details of their trauma, which is why art and music therapy are so effective for veterans overcoming trauma and addiction.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “creative arts therapies may be particularly effective in the treatment of PTSD because they offer a sensory means for children and adults to express traumatic memories.”[8]

9. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that includes techniques like mindfulness meditation to help people overcome trauma, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This type of therapy uses the following techniques to reduce negative emotions and patterns of behavior:

  • Meditation
  • Breathing exercises
  • Body scan exercise
  • Mindfulness practices
  • Mindfulness stretching
  • Yoga

MBCT is effective in improving emotional regulation while allowing veterans who are overcoming addiction to find healthier ways of coping than drugs and alcohol.

Addiction Therapy Designed With the Needs of Veterans in Mind

If you or a loved one are a veteran who struggles with addiction, the root cause of your substance use disorder may be related to unresolved trauma, buried emotions, or mental health issues. However, therapy can help you overcome the hardships of your past while teaching you healthy coping mechanisms to replace your substance abuse.

At Alamo Behavioral Health, our comprehensive programs are tailored to support the unique needs of veterans, providing them with a compassionate and evidence-based approach to recovery. To learn more about our addiction treatment program for veterans, please contact Alamo Behavioral Health today.

References:

  1. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): Substance use disorders in military veterans: prevalence and treatment challenges, Retrieved December 2023 From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5587184/
  2. The American Psychological Association (APA): What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Retrieved December 2023 From https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral
  3. The American Psychological Association (APA): Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy, Retrieved December 2023 From https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/eye-movement-reprocessing
  4. The American Psychological Association (APA): Prolonged Exposure (PE), Retrieved December 2023 From https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/prolonged-exposure
  5. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Retrieved December 2023 From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2963469/
  6. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): Brief Psychodynamic Therapy, Retrieved December 2023 From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64952/
  7. The Columbia University Department of Psychiatry: Horse Therapy Helps Veterans Overcome Trauma, Retrieved December 2023 From https://www.columbiapsychiatry.org/news/horse-therapy-helps-veterans-overcome-trauma
  8. The American Psychological Association (APA): Art and music therapy for trauma survivors, Retrieved December 2023 From https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-28225-003

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