The Impact Of Co-Occurring Disorders On Veterans’ Health


Fighting for your country is an act of bravery, but it’s difficult. War is deadly, and service members have to deal with not only destruction but also heartbreak from leaving their loved ones.

The impact of war on veterans and their families is devastating. When they return home, veterans experience serious health issues, such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). On the other hand, spouses of veterans deal with feelings of sadness, anxiety, and loneliness. They also struggle with possible behavioral issues in their children, which could be a result of deployed parents’ absence. These behavioral issues may include separation anxiety, temper tantrums, mood changes, anger, poor academic performance, changes in eating habits, or even apathy.

Along with the emotional trauma and physical scars that veterans carry, they may develop co-occurring disorders, like substance misuse, depression, anxiety, and others. Read on to learn about the effects of co-occurring disorders on veterans’ health.

  1. Substance Misuse Leads To Other Problems

Veterans have witnessed terrible things while on tour with their fellow members. These visions may haunt them for a lifetime, so they’re unable to escape from them. To cope, they turn to substances like alcohol and drugs. Others try to hide their pain by gambling, sleeping around, or smoking.

Misusing substances offers them an escape they seek, albeit temporarily. However, it only leads to psychological or physical problems, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD.

Some symptoms of substance misuse include falling asleep, escaping reality, experiencing an enhanced mood, feeling less anxious, forgetting traumatic memories, and relieving intense emotions.

Spending time and money on addictions could cost veterans their jobs, homes, dignity, or relationships. The financial strain they put themselves under will only make them more depressed and desperate to escape from their problems. They become stuck in a vicious circle that seems impossible to break. However, they can break away from it with courage and the help of loved ones.

Visiting an addiction treatment and recovery center will help address substance misuse. If you’re in search of one, you can check out reliable websites like

A healthcare professional will develop a plan to get to the bottom of the problem and help treat the addictions you may be dealing with.

You’ll come across various treatment options, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). With this kind of therapy, your healthcare provider will guide you through changing your pattern of thoughts, as well as the feelings and behaviors they cause. There could be other treatments, such as medicated-assisted treatment, that may be used along with CBT or separately.

  1. Depression Affects Daily Function

Because they have gone through traumatic experiences repeatedly, service members who return home have to deal with guilt, anger, frustration, and shame that they’re unable to get away from. Their mental health is so negatively affected that they aren’t equipped with the skills to regulate their emotions and control their behaviors. Thus, they feel helpless and fall into depression.

Depression can result in loss of interest in daily activities or hobbies, self-neglect, or unemployment. When you realize you’ve been spending less time on the things that matter, you experience depression that’s more severe, and this cycle just repeats itself.

Like substance misuse, depression is treatable. But you must prepare yourself for a complicated and possibly lengthy process of treatment and recovery. You can avail of services provided by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Treatments they offer include medicine for anxiety, depression, sleep issues, and other related problems and psychotherapy, which is also called ‘talk therapy.’ Sessions under psychotherapy may involve resolving relationship problems and learning new behaviors like relaxation and exercise.

  1. Anxiety Creates A Social Barrier

Feeling stressed or worried often is different from dealing with extreme anxiety. Veterans’ anxiety may be so severe that they become entirely paranoid, avoidant, and antisocial to those who know them well.

Anxiety may cause heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, sleep problems, lack of energy, excessive need to be busy, and other issues that could affect how veterans communicate and socialize with others.

In fact, some are paralyzed with fear, refusing to leave their homes or interact with friends or family. Anxious behaviors can manifest in different ways, including performance anxiety, fear of success, retribution, or the feeling of paranoia that someone is following them or is out to get them.

Ultimately, anxiety becomes a barrier that isolates veterans from the world.

CBT is a reliable approach that can help veterans understand the anxiety they’re experiencing, resolve negative thoughts and feelings, and confront their fears through the development of new skills. It may expose them to anxiety-inducing situations so that they can learn strategies to respond and prevent them.

  1. Traumatic Brain Injury Decreases Mental Functions

Although it may not be widely known, veterans may have traumatic brain injuries (TBI) caused by blows to the head, nearby explosions, or other factors. In addition, a concussion may fall under this class of injuries and may lead to lasting effects on the brain’s functions.

Depending on which part of the brain that’s injured, symptoms vary from person to person. Some may struggle with cognitive functions, others with behavior, and most will have various forms of physical symptoms like vision problems or an upset stomach.

Persistent headaches, seizures, stiff muscles, body aches, balance problems, and memory issues could prevent veterans from living a normal life. Daily activities like work or self-care may become difficult for them, and dealing with other co-morbid or co-occurring conditions may make everyday tasks even more challenging to do.

Unfortunately, some veterans experience severe damage that’s permanent. There aren’t much healthcare professionals can do to treat this medical condition. What they can do, though, is give them the support they need: encouraging them to achieve wellness by exercising regularly, following a healthy diet, practicing mindfulness and sleep hygiene, and abstaining from substances like alcohol.

  1. Physical Disability Leads To Physical Limitations

Veterans may have many battle scars that come in the form of deep wounds and permanent physical disabilities like amputated limbs. Their injuries affect how they adjust back home and perform daily tasks like brushing their teeth or taking a shower.

Some veterans will have to rely on mobility aids or other people around them for assistance. This dependence hurts their pride and may lead to mental health disorders, addictions, or other forms of instability. If they already have physical or mental health issues, a disability could be the last straw that breaks them.

Furthermore, they may feel extreme guilt over surviving or become depressed. Often, some family members tell veterans that they’re a burden.

Not many employers are open to accepting individuals with physical or mental disabilities.  So, veterans dealing with serious medical conditions struggle to find a job. This struggle only worsens their mental health, causing them to feel even more hopeless.

  1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Influences Sleep

One of the most widely diagnosed conditions among veterans is PTSD. This condition may be challenging to treat, especially when veterans have other co-morbidities or previous traumatic experiences from childhood, for example.

Symptoms of PTSD may include anxiety, guilt, mistrust, and detachment. Flashbacks or nightmares about the events they witnessed during their service are other symptoms too.

Flashbacks may occur suddenly while they’re going about their day. Some wake up, sweating and screaming from their nightmares. To avoid them, they may try not to sleep. Because they’re sleep-deprived, they feel tired, are unable to stay focused, and may experience other issues, like memory problems, increased panic attacks, substance abuse, depression, or suicidal thoughts.

Aside from flashbacks, veterans with PTSD try to avoid people, places, or activities that remind them of the traumatic event. They may also try to avoid talking or thinking about the traumatic event. Additionally, their way of thinking and mood undergo negative changes, such as hopelessness about the future, trouble with maintaining close relationships, being emotionally numb, and feeling detached from loved ones.

Trauma affects major parts of the brain that function together to manage stress: the amygdala (which is the emotional and instinctual center), the hippocampus (which controls memory), and the prefrontal cortex (which regulates your impulses and emotions).

When you remember a traumatic memory, your amygdala goes into overdrive, making you feel as though you’re experiencing the trauma all over again. The prefrontal cortex gets suppressed as well, causing you to feel incapable of controlling your fear.

Meanwhile, the hippocampus, which is responsible for differentiating between past and present, sees less activity. This means that your brain can’t tell the difference between the actual traumatic event and the memory of it. It views things that trigger memories of traumatic events as threats themselves.

The VA offers PTSD treatment programs across the country. One of them is a one-to-one mental health assessment and testing to determine whether you have PTSD. Others include medicine, one-to-one psychotherapy that involves effective methods like cognitive processing therapy, one-to-one family therapy, group therapy for veterans who worked in certain combat zones or who have been dealing with traumas, and group therapy for special needs like stress or anger management or combat support.


What veterans have to go through is painful and hard. They may need a lifetime of treatments and therapies. But with the guidance and support of healthcare providers, friends, and family, they will be able to regain their confidence and lead a fulfilling life.


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