The traumatic experiences and unique challenges women face in the military contribute to the high frequency of mental health disorders in female veterans. Dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma (MST), and transitioning back to civilian life, female veterans face a heightened risk for drug and alcohol abuse. Gender-specific treatment programs in drug rehab tailor to the individual to comprehensively treat their distinctive challenges contributing to mental health issues and addiction.
Unraveling the Unique Challenges Faced by Female Veterans
Like their male counterparts, female veterans face the challenges of readjusting to civilian life post-deployment, which may include managing physical injuries and psychological traumas such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, women veterans also contend with gender-specific issues, including discrimination, sexual harassment, and unequal treatment. Female veterans are more likely to have experienced military sexual trauma (MST) and the burden of societal expectations for women. These unique stressors are commonly associated with mental health issues, increasing the risk of developing substance use disorders (SUDs).
Challenges in female veterans differ from male veterans due to gender-specific experiences in the military and societal norms. Women veterans are more likely to experience military sexual trauma (MST), including sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct. Gender discrimination is another gender-specific challenge faced by women in the military. The effects of discriminatory treatment in the military can lead to isolation and low self-esteem in female veterans. These feelings can contribute to mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, exacerbating existing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Female veterans with military sexual trauma (MST) commonly develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the long-lasting effects on their mental health. While MST is a form of gender-based violence, female veterans typically struggle with PTSD due to the feelings of powerlessness and the stigma surrounding sexual trauma in the military.
Research shows nearly a third of female veterans report incidents of sexual assault in military service, while 71 to 90 percent report experiences of sexual harassment. Most female survivors of military sexual trauma (MST) fail to report their assault due to the fear of judgment and lack of confidentiality.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse among Female Veterans
The impact of sexual trauma on women veterans can contribute to the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. Using substances to cope quickly leads to drug and alcohol abuse and the development of a substance use disorder (SUD). When a substance use disorder (SUD) and a mental illness, such as PTSD, coexist, it is known as a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. Co-occurring disorders are treated in drug rehabilitation centers through tailored treatment plans that treat the individual as a whole.
Many female veterans deal with ‘invisible wounds’ from the military. An invisible wound is an emotional or behavioral condition associated with trauma, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Gender biases in the military can cause low self-esteem in female veterans, contributing to mental health issues and substance abuse as a form of self-medication. Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol exacerbates existing mental health issues and their symptoms. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that 1 in 10 veterans diagnosed with PTSD also have a SUD. For female veterans, the combination of gender, trauma, and addiction requires a tailored treatment approach for recovery. Female veterans struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse receive dual diagnosis treatment in drug rehab.
How Addiction Treatment Centers Support Women Veterans
Drug rehabilitation centers provide tailored treatment programs designed to address both the physical aspects of addiction and the underlying mental health issues. For female veterans, rehab centers offer gender-specific treatment programs focusing on their needs and experiences. Individualized treatment plans include a combination of psychotherapies, behavioral therapies, and holistic therapies to treat substance use and mental health conditions, including PTSD, MST, and depression. A comprehensive approach to addiction treatment is essential for supporting female veterans on their path to recovery. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in drug rehab is one of the most effective treatments for trauma-related disorders. CBT treatments help female veterans address traumatic memories and alter negative thought patterns. Trauma-focused CBT helps challenge distressing thoughts and cognitive distortions that encourage feelings of guilt, fear, or helplessness.
Another practical therapeutic approach for treating trauma and PTSD in drug rehab is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. EMDR treatments target the memories linked to the trauma while engaging in bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation is a part of the desensitization process, which includes eye movements, listening to alternating sounds, or gentle, rhythmic tapping to reduce the emotional intensity of the traumatic memory. Gender-specific treatment plans for female veterans precisely treat the unique needs of women with drug or alcohol addiction. Holistic treatments in drug rehab focus on treating the individual as a whole—mind, body, and soul—for complete healing.
Gender-Specific Treatment Plans
Addiction treatment centers commonly offer tailored treatment plans to address the complexity of substance abuse in female veterans. Female veterans struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction benefit from gender-specific treatment offering a more comfortable space to recover. Gender-specific treatment plans provide a safe and supportive environment where female veterans can openly discuss their experiences, process their traumas, and develop healthier coping strategies. A tailored treatment plan might include therapies addressing the gender-specific challenges faced by women in the military and coping strategies to process and heal from them. A gender-specific environment facilitates healing and recovery while considering female veterans’ needs and experiences.
Holistic Treatments for Female Veterans in Drug Rehab
Holistic treatments, including mindfulness, yoga, and art therapy, have proven effective in treating addiction and mental health disorders. For female veterans coping with physical and mental health conditions, these treatments offer an outlet for processing trauma, reducing stress, and improving overall well-being. These non-traditional therapies complement traditional treatment methods, such as individual or group therapy, ensuring a comprehensive approach to addiction recovery.
Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are holistic therapies that reduce stress levels and promote relaxation in addiction treatment. Art therapy, drama, and music therapy in drug rehab allow women to convey their feelings and experiences through artistic expression. Holistic treatment for female veterans aims to improve self-awareness and better understand one’s thoughts and feelings to process trauma. Starting the healing process with holistic therapy helps female veterans identify and manage stress and trauma symptoms.
Building Resilience: Aftercare and Planning for Female Veterans for Post-Rehab
Following drug and alcohol rehab treatment, treatment centers equip female veterans with the skills to navigate post-rehab life—ongoing care and support following rehab treatment help to ensure a seamless transition back into life after treatment. Aftercare treatment programs provide patients with the tools and services to promote their recovery, including alum programs and events, therapy services, and support groups. Drug rehabilitation centers help prepare female veterans for life in long-term recovery by addressing co-occurring mental health issues and fostering resilience.
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- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. PTSD: National Center for PTSD: Military Sexual Trauma.
- VAWnet: National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. Challenges Specific to Female Veterans.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. PTSD: National Center for PTSD: PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans.
- PsychCentral, 2021. What Is EMDR Therapy?