Dual Diagnosis: Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders in Veterans

co-occurring disorders in veteransEvery veteran is affected by service, whether they see combat or not. Sometimes, even basic training is so traumatic that it leaves lasting effects on those who undergo it. With that being said, veterans experience a wide range of mental health symptoms that cause them to seek out coping mechanisms and ways to self-medicate.

Unfortunately, veterans are at a higher risk of experiencing severe mental health effects than the general population. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), veterans are “1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than nonveteran adults.”[1] The article cites that the reasoning behind this might be linked to high exposure to trauma, stress, and isolation.

Because of the mental health issues veterans often face, they might turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms. This can lead to the development of co-occurring disorders, which means you have a mental illness and an addiction at the same time. Unfortunately, veterans are especially vulnerable to developing co-occurring disorders, which must be treated by a professional dual-diagnosis treatment program.

What are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders are characterized by suffering from both a mental health condition and a substance use disorder. Co-occurring disorders can develop for several reasons, including shared risk factors, using substances to self-medicate, or the mental health effects of abusing drugs and alcohol.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 9.2 million adults struggle with a co-occurring disorder.[2]

Almost any kind of addiction can co-occur with any mental health condition. The most common mental illnesses to co-occur with substance use disorders include:

  • Anxiety and mood disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Conduct disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

When someone has co-occurring disorders, treatment can be complicated. If only one condition is treated, the untreated one could lead to a relapse in the other. Thankfully, dual-diagnosis rehab centers combine addiction recovery services with clinically proven mental health treatment to ensure that clients receive the support they need.

Are Veterans More Likely to Experience Co-Occurring Disorders?

According to SAMHSA, 26.2% of veterans struggled with co-occurring disorders in 2020.[3]

It was reported that 13.9% of the general population suffered from co-occurring conditions in 2021, making it clear that veterans are affected by these issues at higher rates.[4]

But what makes veterans more vulnerable to co-occurring addiction and mental health conditions?

Veterans experience higher levels of stress, exposure to trauma, and isolation from loved ones at a higher rate than most people in the country. This occurs whether they see combat or not. Because of this, they have higher rates of both addiction and mental illness when compared to the general population.

What are the Most Common Co-Occurring Disorders Among Veterans?

The most common mental health condition to co-occur with addiction among veterans is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 1 out of 3 veterans seeking help for addiction also have PTSD.[5]

While veterans experience other co-occurring disorders like anxiety conditions and major depressive disorder, PTSD affects them at staggering rates because of the high level of trauma they are exposed to during basic training, deployment, and combat.

Thankfully, dual-diagnosis rehab centers for veterans can offer trauma-informed care to help them overcome their PTSD and lower their desire to abuse substances.

How Can a Dual Diagnosis Rehab Program Help Veterans Overcome Co-Occurring Disorders?

According to SAMHSA, 90% of veterans struggling with a substance use disorder and 51% with mental health conditions did not seek treatment.[3]

When veterans avoid seeking professional support, their co-occurring disorders tend to worsen over time. Hopefully, outlining what dual diagnosis treatment involves will motivate veterans to seek the help they need.

During dual diagnosis treatment for veterans, you can expect the following services:

  • Assessment and diagnosis
  • Individualized treatment planning
  • Medical detox
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction and alcoholism
  • Medication management for mental illnesses
  • Evidence-based behavioral therapy on an individual and group basis
  • Access to family therapy
  • Trauma-informed care
  • Holistic services like nutritional counseling and meditation
  • Relapse prevention planning
  • Aftercare services like an alumni support group

Dual diagnosis programs are available in both inpatient and outpatient settings. With that being said, veterans who suffer from severe mental health or substance abuse issues should choose to attend inpatient before they transition into an outpatient program.

Get Connected to a Dual Diagnosis Treatment Program for Veterans Today

If you or a loved one is a veteran who struggles with co-occurring disorders, it’s time to consider dual diagnosis treatment. At Alamo Behavioral Health, we can provide you with services specific to veterans that help you regain control over your mental health and assimilate into civilian life with ease.

To learn more about our dual diagnosis rehab program for veterans, contact us today.


  1. The American Psychological Association (APA): Veterans are at higher risk for suicide. Psychologists are helping them tackle their unique struggles, Retrieved January 2024 From https://www.apa.org/monitor/2022/11/preventing-veteran-suicide
  2. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Co-Occurring Disorders and Other Health Conditions, Retrieved January 2024 From https://www.samhsa.gov/medications-substance-use-disorders/medications-counseling-related-conditions/co-occurring-disorders
  3. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Veteran Adults, Retrieved January 2024 From https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt37926/2020NSDUHVeteransSlides072222.pdf
  4. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): SAMHSA Announces National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Results Detailing Mental Illness and Substance Use Levels in 2021, Retrieved January 2024 From https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2023/01/04/samhsa-announces-national-survey-drug-use-health-results-detailing-mental-illness-substance-use-levels-2021.html
  5. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans, Retrieved January 2024 From https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/related/substance_abuse_vet.asp

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