Veterans Suffer High Rates of Addiction: Require Specialized Treatment to Address Trauma


By Dr. Joseph A. Troncale, MD FASAM,

Corporate Medical Director,

Retreat Premier Addiction Treatment Centers


A Marine veteran named Chris will not be attending his hometown’s parade and Memorial Day ceremony with his wife and kids this year.


By the time the parade begins, Chris will have already consumed two or three beers. By the time the ceremony that follows is over, he’ll be into his second six-pack.


When his family returns, his wife will keep the kids away from their father, afraid that they’ll say something that will irritate him and cause a verbal outburst or perhaps even a physical confrontation. Chris will spend most of the day playing video games, only leaving the chair to get another beer.


At the end of the day he’ll go to bed, hoping that the nightmares don’t come tonight.


Fighting Effects of Addiction

Chris and his family are not alone.  Rates of substance abuse are high among veterans, who often suffer from co-occurring disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or traumatic brain injury. The National Institute of Drug Abuse reported that substance abuse among veterans is directly related to combat exposure and estimated that one-quarter of all veterans who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan exhibited signs of substance abuse disorder.


Another study involving about 600 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans revealed that 39 percent of them showed positive for probable alcohol abuse, and 3 percent for probable drug use, according to the National Veterans Foundation.


By the Veterans Administration’s own numbers, 22 veterans die each day by suicide. Also, veterans and their families experience higher rates of divorce, homelessness, child abuse and child neglect than non-veteran families.


The problem is huge, and many veterans who need help are not getting it. The fact is that treating the addiction is only the beginning.


Tailored Treatment for Both Trauma and Addiction

Many veterans who do seek and receive treatment often continue to experience to problems because they aren’t sufficiently treated for trauma. Addiction treatment for veterans must be specialized. A one-size-fits-all treatment plan won’t work.


It’s important to understand that many veterans experience both physical and psychological injuries and that those injuries very often involve a great deal of trauma. A shattered leg caused by a roadside bomb involves a greater level of trauma than a leg broken in a skiing accident.


Trauma and addiction are strongly linked and must be treated together.


At Retreat, we don’t just treat a veteran’s addiction problem. We acknowledge their trauma and understand the connection between that and the addiction.


Veterans generally respond well when treated in groups with other veterans. That’s exactly why Retreat offers tailored groups especially for veterans and first responders. Members of these groups become comfortable and form strong relationships, which enables them to open up more easily and acknowledge their feelings and concerns.


Veterans who undergo treatment for addiction also require a strong level of aftercare. Ongoing therapy is necessary following treatment, and in many cases, may be a lifelong process.


We’re in the season of Memorial Day, and people are remembering and thinking about veterans. We can’t help the vets who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, but we can help those who are struggling with the aftermath of their service. I think we owe them that.



About the Author

Dr. Joseph A. Troncale, MD FASAM, served 10 years with the U.S. Army Reserves, specializes in substance abuse treatment specifically tailored to veterans. Today he gives back as an advocate for veterans and Corporate Medical Director at Retreat Premier Addiction Treatment Centers.


Retreat Premier Addiction Treatment Centers, with locations in Pennsylvania and Florida, specializes in treating veterans. For more information on the veteran-specific program, please contact Retreat at 855.859.8810.