Renaissance Ranch

9 Therapies Proven to Help Vets with Substance Abuse Disorder

Jan 16, 2024

Servicemembers shoulder a heavy load protecting our freedoms at home and abroad. What many don’t realize, however, is that soldiers and sailors take quite a bit of emotional, and sometimes physical, baggage home with them when they exit the military—the kind of burdens that leave them vulnerable to substance abuse.

A quick look at the statistics from the Wounded Warrior Project tells a heartrending story. Of the roughly 166,000 veterans registered with the WWP:

  • 76% reported having PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome).
  • 50% had co-occurring conditions, meaning they suffered moderate to severe symptoms from two or more mental disorders.
  • More than one in four reported having suicidal thoughts within the past 12 months, and 72% within the past two weeks, of the survey.
  • 78% percent of warriors said they feel left out or isolated from others.
  • Roughly 67% of women and 5.8% of men disclosed that they experienced some form of military sexual trauma (e.g., assault, harassment, etc.) during their time in the service.

Veterans mustering out of the military often find themselves in emotional and physical pain and isolated from the only people who can really understand them, their brothers and sisters in arms. And much like their peers in the general population battling similar stressors, they turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain.

The Center for National Drug Abuse Statistics shows that 80% of veterans abuse alcohol and 7% abuse illegal drugs. But that’s not all—many veterans return home suffering from a variety of painful injuries, including lost limbs, burns, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). While prescribing opioids and other painkillers for severe and chronic pain is necessary, one in 10 veterans between the ages of 18 and 25 misuse prescribed medications.

Therapies Proven to Help Vets with Substance Abuse Disorder


A Loud Cry for Comprehensive Care

As you can see above, veterans with SUD rarely present with just drug or alcohol issues. They also suffer from obvious and unseen injuries, mental distress, isolation, and combat-related or sexual trauma.

“Most veterans don’t get any addiction treatment, let alone the specialized care they need to address the multi-faceted issues they’re dealing with,” said Preston Dixon, COO at Renaissance Ranch, a substance abuse rehab in Vernal, Utah. “When veterans with substance use disorder only receive detox and cessation remedies, they often relapse into addiction because the underlying mental and emotional concerns haven’t been addressed.”

Dixon continued, “With the expansion of Tricare coverage to more comprehensive substance abuse rehabs like Renaissance, veterans have better opportunities to get the quality, holistic care they need.”

When looking for outstanding veteran substance abuse care, you should consider facilities that offer the following evidence-based therapies:

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is one of the most effective psychotherapies to treat substance abuse, as it challenges the negative behavior and thought patterns that often trigger or exacerbate SUD. By practicing CBT, a veteran can learn to identify cognitive distortions, learn effective coping skills, and develop greater self-awareness.

2. Motivational Interviewing (MI)

MI represents a style of communication between the client and clinician that empowers change, but respects autonomy. The therapist guides the patient in uncovering personal motivations that will propel them forward in their recovery.

3. Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)

Therapists will use MET as a means of working with a patient to facilitate behavioral change. MET applies Motivational Interviewing (MI) as a tool to accomplish this. MET is especially helpful with substance abusers who may not yet be fully committed to giving up their addictions by helping them identify personal reasons for recovery and change.

4. Trauma-Focused Therapies

As we pointed out earlier, veterans often experience many different kinds of trauma while in military service. By using trauma-focused therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, the clinician can identify and address the painful encounters behind the need or desire to self-medicate with substances.

5. Contingency Management

Data shows that contingency management therapy is a highly-successful behavioral intervention for substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. It is basically reward-reinforcement treatment, where patients are rewarded for meeting treatment goals or milestones. Naturally, after being rewarded, the patient feels reinforced in their desire to continue positive behaviors. One example might be a prize-based system where each time a patient meets a treatment goal, they receive an entry in a prize drawing. The more pro-recovery behavior, the more chances to win the prize.

6. Integrated Dual Disorder Treatment (IDDT)

IDDT combines substance abuse care with mental health services for SUD patients who have co-occurring mental disorders such as anxiety, PTSD, depression, etc. Dual-diagnosis treatment must be a central component of addiction recovery care for veterans, as nearly one out of every three veterans that present with a substance use disorder also suffers from PTSD.

7. Group Therapy

People with SUD who participate in group therapy are able to take advantage of sharing issues, challenges, fears, hopes, and success stories in a safe, supportive environment. Therapy groups also help create a sense of community and camaraderie that substance abusers can rely on to bolster them through the ups and downs of recovery.

8. Family Therapy

Addiction doesn’t just affect the person abusing drugs or alcohol; their whole network of loved ones and friends also suffer. Grief, anger, helplessness, and despair are just a few of the myriad of emotions people experience when a person close to them struggles with SUD. By the same token, family members can also be their loved one’s strongest source of support. Effective alcohol and drug treatment facilities strongly encourage family participation in programs that provide addiction education and therapeutic tools to help their loved one in recovery.

9. Peer Support Programs

One of the most critical aspects in maintaining sobriety is peer support. People in recovery naturally need to connect, share experiences, and remain accountable to a group of like-minded peers. Addiction is very isolating, even more so for veterans. The special brotherhood or sisterhood they shared with those they worked alongside in combat situations often gets lost when they return home from service; leaving them feeling disconnected and alone in a world where no one understands them. By meeting regularly with groups like Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, veterans recovery groups, and rehab alumni, people with SUD can stay critically connected to those with similar backgrounds who are on the same journey to sobriety.

If you or your loved one is a veteran looking for specialized addiction treatment, you can call us at 855-736-7262. Our substance abuse facilities in Vernal and elsewhere in Utah and Idaho are committed to give veterans essential tools to win their battle against addiction.