According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdose deaths have quintupled since 1999. In 2020, roughly 75% of all drug overdose deaths involved an opioid. Unfortunately, veterans have been particularly susceptible to opioid addiction over the last decade. 

Between 1999 and 2010, the mortality rates among U.S. military veterans increased by 54%, largely due to opioid overdoses. Due to the life-threatening danger of opioids, especially synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, it’s crucial that veterans struggling with opioid addiction seek professional treatment. 

A continuum of care using evidence-based treatment can help veterans recover from opioid addiction. Treatment programming for opioid use disorder (OUD) typically involves a customized, multidisciplinary approach. For veterans, treatment is often most effective when programming considers the unique experience of serving in the military. 

Opioid Addiction Among Veteran Population

Although the opioid epidemic has touched nearly everyone, research shows that the epidemic has disproportionately affected veterans. Veterans are twice as likely to die from an accidental opioid overdose as the general population. 

Veterans being more likely to suffer from chronic pain than non-veterans may be the cause for higher opioid prescription rates in this population. Factors such as mental conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and stigma against mental health treatment may result in self-medication as well.

Adjusting to life after the military can also be stressful. Other stressors like injury, trauma or underemployment can compound suffering, which may lead someone to cope using substances. Fortunately, a personalized treatment plan for veterans struggling with OUD can help. 

Intake Assessments and Medical Detoxification

To begin professional treatment for opioid dependency, veterans may first undergo an initial physical and mental health assessment to help clinicians customize a treatment plan. These assessments may include:

  • Substance screenings
  • A medical assessment
  • A risk assessment
  • A psychiatric evaluation for any co-occurring mental health concerns

While everyone’s particular situation is unique, the vast majority of individuals struggling with opioid dependency will require medical detoxification. Although a difficult first step, the medically-monitored process helps clients overcome the physical symptoms of opioid withdrawal in a safe and comfortable environment. 

Typically, physical withdrawal symptoms may last between five and ten days, depending on how severe the addiction is and the person’s health. However, the process may last shorter or longer than this timeframe. During detox, the individual is monitored by a team of medical professionals and clinicians who help ensure safety and comfort. 

Physical symptoms of opioid withdrawal can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Stomach cramps

There are several methods to mitigate these symptoms. Detox may include:

  • An easy-to-digest meal plan
  • A restful environment
  • Massage therapy
  • Medication management

Once the physical symptoms of withdrawal subside, the individual will typically transition into less-intensive care to continue their treatment. 

Psychotherapies and Psychoeducation to Personalize Veteran Care 

While treatment can differ based on individual needs, medical detox is typically followed by either residential care or a partial hospitalization program. Regardless of the level of care, personalized care plans for veterans struggling with opioid use disorder usually involve a multidisciplinary approach. Possible treatment options are:

  • Individual, group and family therapy sessions
  • Psychoeducation classes
  • Ongoing medication management
  • Recreational therapy, such as art activities or yoga

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a majority of veterans diagnosed with a substance use disorder also struggle with co-occurring PTSD. For a dual diagnosis of opioid use disorder and PTSD, clinicians may incorporate trauma-focused counseling into their treatment plans. 

Due to combat experiences, grief and loss, injuries and other traumatic events, veterans struggle with PTSD more than the general public. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often utilized to address connections between these traumatic events, destructive thinking patterns and addictive behavior.

Veterans may also participate in prolonged exposure therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) sessions. These evidence-based therapy approaches help loosen the connection between traumatic events and associated emotional triggers. 

Some therapies have been proven effective in veteran treatment plans, including COPE (Concurrent Treatment of PTSD and Substance Use Disorders using Prolonged Exposure). Seeking Safety, an evidence-based therapy that addresses PTSD, is another option for treatment.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Opioid Use Disorder

Along with talk therapies and educational classes, one of the significant cornerstones of effective treatment plans for opioid use disorder is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT utilizes medications to help control opioid cravings, mitigate triggers and prevent relapse. 

Medications typically prescribed as part of a treatment plan include:

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine (Sublocade, Buprenex), often used in combination with naloxone (Suboxone, Subutex) to prevent abuse
  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol)

MAT is typically part of the initial treatment plan to alleviate the discomfort of detox. While the dosage and medication may change during treatment, MAT has proven highly effective in preventing relapse and promoting long-term recovery in those with an opioid use disorder. 

For veterans, the multidisciplinary approach of psychotherapies, educational classes and medication-assisted treatments can help address the physical, mental and emotional aspects of opioid addiction. Successful treatment plans for veterans also typically include family involvement, which creates a support structure for aftercare.

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Veteran Recovery Is Our Mission

The Recovery Village is an industry-leading treatment provider for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. 

  • Experienced clinicians: Our clinicians are specially trained in trauma-informed care, military culture and treating veteran-specific addiction and mental health needs.
  • Dual diagnosis: We treat addiction and mental health disorders like PTSD, anxiety or depression simultaneously for a better recovery.  
  • EMDR: A revolutionary treatment available at several facilities, EMDR therapy alleviates mental pain and emotional recession from trauma, which can lead to better outcomes for your addiction.
  • FORTITUDE: Our specialty track for veterans and first responders at select facilities puts you in exclusive group therapy sessions with your peers. 

If you’re a veteran struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, our Veteran Advocates can help you navigate your VA health insurance and get you the help you need.

Visit the following websites to learn about The Recovery Village’s network of drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities. Call today for admissions. Each center is ready to help people learn how to cope with their addiction and uncover the root causes for their substance use disorder.

  • Orlando Recovery Center: A premier rehabilitation facility in Orlando, Florida that helps individuals recover from addiction and substance use disorders. The center also offers the opportunity to treat co-occurring disorders.
  • The Recovery Village Columbus: Located in Ohio, this facility provides inpatient, outpatient and aftercare treatment for people looking to begin detox. The center provides individualized plans to help patients through recovery while addressing their unique co-occurring disorders or any setbacks that may happen during recovery.
  • The Recovery Village Palmer Lake: In Colorado, this facility offers inpatient, outpatient and intensive outpatient treatment for individuals looking to kick-start their journey to recovery.
  • The Recovery Village Ridgefield: Located right in southern Washington, this facility provides patients with outpatient and aftercare programs. Just 20 minutes outside of Portland, this facility assists individuals who are ready to begin treatment.
  • The Recovery Village: In Umatilla, Florida, this is a rehabilitation facility that provides resources for individuals seeking drug and alcohol treatment. There are inpatient, outpatient, intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization treatment programs available for those suffering from Ambien addiction.
  • IAFF Center of Excellence: Specializes in assisting firefighters who struggle with behavioral health problems and addiction. Members can enter the recovery process sooner so they can return back to work as quickly as possible. Inpatient, partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs are all available at this facility, where patients can address their Ambien addiction in a safe, supportive environment.
  • Denver Mental Health & Counseling: Denver Mental Health and Counseling by The Recovery Village is a physician-led outpatient center specializing in evidence-based addiction and mental health treatments, offering services such as TMS, IOP, and personalized care for both ongoing and new patients, dedicated to fostering long-term recovery and overall well-being.
  • The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health: The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health is a premier physician-led treatment center in South Florida, offering a comprehensive spectrum of services from medical detox to outpatient programs for alcohol, drug, and co-occurring mental health conditions, with a commitment to rejuvenating lives, families, and communities, and facilitating same-day admissions.
  • The Recovery Village Atlanta: Located in Roswell just outside downtown Atlanta, is a 62-bed physician-led treatment facility offering a comprehensive range of services, from medical detox to outpatient care, specializing in alcohol, drug, and co-occurring mental health conditions, dedicated to transforming lives, families, and communities throughout Georgia.
  • The Recovery Village Kansas City: The Recovery Village Kansas City, an 80-bed facility in Raytown just 10 miles from downtown, offers a comprehensive range of evidence-based treatments for addiction and mental health conditions, overseen by physician leaders, and is dedicated to revitalizing lives, families, and communities throughout the Midwest.
  • The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper Health: The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper, situated just 20 minutes from Philadelphia, is a leading rehab facility in South Jersey providing comprehensive, evidence-based addiction and mental health treatments, ranging from medical detox to teletherapy, with a dedicated team committed to guiding adults on their path to lifelong recovery.
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Editor – Abby Doty
Abby Doty graduated from Hamline University in 2021 with a Bachelor's in English and Psychology. She has written and edited creative and literary work as well as academic pieces focused primarily on psychology and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Understanding the Opioid Overdose Epidemic.” June 1, 2022. Accessed May 24, 2023.

Department of Veterans Affairs. “CA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline for t[…]ent of Chronic Pain.” 2022. Accessed May 24, 2023.

Bennett, Alex; Watford, J. Alexander; Elliott, Luther; Wolfson-Stofko, Brett; & Guarino, Honoria. “Military Veterans’ Overdose Risk Behav[…]chosocial Influences.”Addictive Behaviors, December 2019. Accessed May 24, 2023.

Bennett, Alex, et al. “U.S. Military veterans and the opioid ov[…]d prevention efforts.” Annals of Medicine, 2022. Accessed May 24, 2023.

Department of Veterans Affairs. “Treatment of Co-Occurring PTSD and Subst[…] Use Disorder in VA.” Accessed May 24, 2023.

Norman, Sonya; Wilkins, Kendall; Tapert, Susan; Lang, Ariel; & Najavitsd, Lisa. “A Pilot Study of Seeking Safety Therapy […]ith OEF/OIF Veterans.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, March 2010. Accessed May 24, 2023.

Amura, Claudia, et al. “Outcomes from the medication assisted tr[…]s in rural Colorado.” Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 2022. Accessed May 24, 2023.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.