VA clinic helps vets fight drug, alcohol abuse


Many veterans turn to drug and alcohol as a means of coping with PTSD.

Some veterans who return from combat or other duty have problems with the use of alcohol or drugs, both street drugs and prescription medications used incorrectly. Such substance use can harm health, cause mood and behavior problems, hurt social relationships and, in the worst cases, result in financial ruin. 

Thankfully, for veterans with these issues, there are treatments and counseling at the Viera Veterans Administration (VA) Clinic which address all types of problems related to substance abuse, from unhealthy use of alcohol to life-threatening addictions. 

“We know that many adjustment issues occur when veterans return from combat or separate from the military, and helping to intervene and develop healthy coping skills are important so that veterans do not turn to unhealthy ones, such as drugs or alcohol, ” said Victoria Harwood, licensed clinical social worker, certified addiction professional (CAP) and social worker for the substance abuse program at the Viera VA Clinic. 

In her role as therapist, she runs groups, participates in the Intensive Outpatient Program for Substance Abuse and provides individual therapy for veterans with substance abuse issues. 

“We have a full gamut of services available: group and individual therapy, an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), and aftercare. We use community resources for detox and inpatient services and then coordinate care for the needs of the veterans. In addition, we have a full range of pain management services available on the medical side to address chronic pain, physical issues and other options to address pain symptoms, as well as a full range of mental health services to address PTSD and anxiety, which are often co-existing around substance abuse issues,” she said. 

In the case of prescription drug abuse, even if they are determined to stop using the drug, doing so without medical supervision can be extremely dangerous. Again, depending on the substance, withdrawal effects can include seizures, cold sweats, bone pain, hallucinations, insomnia, anxiety and depression. For this reason, the safest way for a drug addict to start drug treatment for their addiction is to go through monitored drug detox at a drug rehab facility. 

Looking toward the future, Harwood said she thinks this area of service will increasingly become a key for the VA helping veterans. 

“Absolutely, especially because many of the co-occurring or underlying mental health issues involving self-medication with substance use/abuse. Substance abuse issues are of extreme importance, because it impacts all aspects of the individual’s life and the lives of those around them: family/interpersonal relationships, employment, health, safety, mental health and feelings of self worth. 

“The mission of the VA is to improve the lives of veterans and we cannot do that unless we take an approach that directly addresses the daily struggle of those with addiction issues.’’ she said. 

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