Veteran Substance Abuse Treatment Programs & Therapy Types
When a person is trying to overcome a substance use disorder, numerous types of treatment for addiction that are available. Military veterans may have additional treatment programs designed to address their unique needs. Many substance abuse programs have special treatment for veterans which incorporates peer-to-peer group therapy and treatment for common co-occurring disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Knowing what treatment tracks are available at a facility and what these treatment programs and therapy types can do to help veterans get sober can help make the rehab process easier.
Table of Contents
- Types of Addiction Treatment Programs
- Addiction Therapy Types for Veterans
- Medication-Assisted Treatment
- Other Treatment Types
- VA Treatment vs Private Programs
- Do Veteran Benefits Cover The Various Substance Abuse Programs?
Types of Addiction Treatment Programs
Addition treatment programs are not one-size-fits-all solutions. Everyone, especially veterans, will find themselves with unique needs when attending rehab. These needs will often necessitate the use of different types of treatment for addiction. When you undergo an assessment at an addiction treatment center, your case will be evaluated based on several criteria to determine the types of treatment for addiction that will most benefit you. Some of these criteria include:1
- The severity of your drug or alcohol use.
- Whether or not you are in active withdrawal.
- The presence of an underlying medical condition, whether physical or mental.
- History of complications from withdrawal, such as seizures.
- Relapse potential.
- Living environment and support system.
- Willingness and readiness to change.
After a substance abuse treatment professional evaluates your needs, you will then be placed in the type of treatment setting that best suits your situation. These treatment settings include:2
- Detox is a common treatment program and first step for those beginning the rehab process. During detox, you will find yourself flushing substances like drugs or alcohol from your system. Oftentimes, detox will be accompanied by withdrawal symptoms that can vary in severity. Medical detox often occurs in a treatment facility or hospital, and is overseen by nurses and medical professionals. This allows medical staff to respond to potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Depending on your condition and needs, you may undergo types of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT).1 Detox typically lasts a few days to a week or two. After which, you’ll be ready to pursue more intensive substance abuse treatment programs.
- Inpatient treatment, which is the most intense type of treatment, providing 24/7 oversight and medical supervision. You will have counseling, usually in a group setting, though sometimes on an individual basis. You will also receive frequent assessments by nurses and doctors during your stay.
- Residential treatment is a common type of treatment that sees patients living in a facility and receiving treatment for long periods of time. These programs will often incorporate various treatment tracks and therapy types. Residential treatment can last several months, as opposed to inpatient treatment which normally resolves within a few weeks.
- Outpatient treatment allows you to receive the same types of counseling and assessment that you get in an inpatient program, but you will go home at night and on weekends. Outpatient treatment varies from a few hours a week, to as much as 20 hours per week. Outpatient is often used as a step-down treatment for those who have completed more intensive inpatient or residential programs, but still need support.
Addiction Therapy Types for Veterans
Veterans who attend substance abuse treatment programs may participate in a range of therapy types. These therapy types can be helpful, especially if veterans are able to share common experiences of combat and reintegration to civilian life with their peers. For example, many veterans have PTSD, with an estimated 1 in 3 veterans seeking treatment for PTSD also meeting the criteria for a substance use disorder.3 For many veterans, getting help in a treatment program that knows how to treat co-occurring PTSD and substance use disorders is especially beneficial. It can also be therapeutic for veterans with PTSD to attend group therapy with other veterans who understand their struggles with the mental health disorder. When veterans are treated for substance use disorders, the most common approaches to treatment include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy helps people understand the thought patterns that lead to the use of drugs or alcohol. CBT can help people learn new coping skills to avoid using substances and to manage triggers that lead them to want to use drugs or alcohol.4
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This therapy uses a combination of counseling and skills classes to help individuals learn new coping skills. While DBT still is emerging as an evidence-based practice for treating substance use disorders, it appears effective at helping foster healthy coping mechanisms.5 DBT has also been used with veterans for emotional regulation.6
- Contingency management. Contingency management is a popular approach in substance abuse treatment programs that provides incentives for achieving various goals in treatment, such as having a certain number of clean urine drug screens or going to 12-step groups. Incentives might be enjoyable, such as movie tickets, or a person may accumulate points to buy items.7
- Group therapy. The most common approach to therapy in most substance abuse programs, group therapy will bring many individuals undergoing treatment together in a single therapy session. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, group therapy is shown to have positive outcomes for people with substance use disorders, especially when it is based on CBT.8
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of specific medications to treat addiction, particularly for alcohol and opioids. The use of MAT has been shown to have positive effects in patients, especially when paired with other forms of therapy like CBT.9 The medications use in MAT are FDA approved, and will often be tailored to meet a person’s needs. Some common medications used in MAT include:
- Buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist that is found in Subutex and Suboxone.10 Veterans may receive Buprenorphine during drug treatment programs to help manage cravings for opioids like heroin or Oxycontin.
- Methadone, a controlled medication that is used to treat opioid addiction by helping to curb cravings for opioids.11
- Disulfiram, also known as Antabuse, is a drug that is designed to help guide a person to avoid alcohol. One of three FDA-approved drugs specifically for treating alcohol use disorder, Disulfiram results in nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and flushing when a person taking it ingests alcohol.12 It is commonly used during outpatient treatment, though can be prescribed in inpatient settings depending on one’s needs.
- Acamprosate, which is a medication that helps reduce drinking. It is less commonly used that Disulfiram and other FDA-approved medications.13
- Naltrexone, also known as Vivitrol, which helps curb the urge to drink alcohol and is also used for opioid use disorders. Naltrexone binds to various receptors in the brain and helps block the effects of alcohol and opioids.14
Other Treatment Types
Other treatment approaches to substance abuse are complementary or alternative to the standard evidence-based practices. Often known as holistic therapies or holistic treatment, these alternative approaches are designed to be therapeutic and help foster strong physical and mental health. Some common holistic therapies include:15, 16
- Yoga and meditation.
- Art therapy.
- Music therapy.
- Equine therapy.
Each of these approaches needs more study to determine the effectiveness for treating substance misuse disorders. Although people enjoy these alternative types of treatment for addiction, there is no evidence to suggest that they can take the place of medically-informed, evidence-based substance abuse treatment programs.15
VA Treatment vs Private Programs
If you are a veteran, you have many quality substance abuse treatment options available to you. The VA is experienced in treating the needs of veterans and using evidence-based practices to do so. There are many benefits for attending a VA facility. VA facilities tend to be lower in costs, especially for veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare system. Additionally, the use of evidence-based treatments allows them to have a strong medical basis for treatment. The VA’s healthcare network is specifically designed to serve veterans, and many of the staff members are expeirneced and able to connect with veterans in a way that the staff at other facilities may not be able to. However, you may not live close to a VA treatment center, or the VA center near you has a long waiting list for treatment.
As a veteran, you should be aware that the VA is not your only option for addiction treatment. In addition to veteran substance abuse treatment programs through the VA, private providers partner with the VA through the Community Care Network. This is a network of providers that veterans can access to receive treatment at non-VA treatment centers throughout the United States. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a community partner with the VA and thus provides quality treatment for veterans at our locations nationwide.
Do Veteran Benefits Cover The Various Substance Abuse Programs?
Your VA benefits may cover substance abuse treatment for you at various veteran drug treatment programs, including those at AAC. Your individual situation will affect approval of VA benefits, including your need for inpatient or outpatient treatment. It’s best to contact a VA representative to determine the extent of your coverage under the VA healthcare network.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.
- American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2015). What are the ASAM levels of care?
- Veterans Administration. (2019). PTSD and substance abuse in veterans.
- Veterans Administration. (2019). Cognitive behavioral therapy for substance abuse disorders.
- Stotts, A. L., & Northrup, T. F. (2015). The promise of third-wave behavioral therapies in the treatment of substance use disorders. Current opinion in psychology, 2, 75–81.
- Veterans Administration. (2021). Dialectical behavior therapy program.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Contingency management interventions/motivational incentives.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Types of treatment programs.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Medication assisted treatment.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021).
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021).
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017). Disulfiram.
- Witkiewitz, K., Saville, K. & Hamerus, K. (2012). Acamprosate for treatment of alcohol dependence: mechanisms, efficacy, and clinical utility. Therapeutics and clinical risk management, 8, 45.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Naltrexone,
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2018). Mind and body approaches for substance use disorders.
- Kern-Godal, A., Arnevik, E. A., Walderhaug, E., & Ravndal, E. (2015). Substance use disorder treatment retention and completion: a prospective study of horse-assisted therapy (HAT) for young adults. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 10, 21.