Understanding PTSD Treatment for Combat Veterans

by | Feb 14, 2023 | Addiction

understanding ptsd treatment for combat veterans

Veterans experience higher levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when compared to the rest of the population. About 18% of combat veterans experience PTSD after their military service. The percentages also are impacted depending on which war a veteran has served in, whether it’s Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan conflicts. PTSD typically stems from bearing witness to combat and other violent war experiences. Combat veterans in particular are more likely to be diagnosed with this disorder than other service members. A combat veteran is defined as any service individual who experienced imminent threats in a conflict zone while in the military.

Conflicts for combat veterans can include hostile fire, bombing, torture, or injuries. While the military has its own healthcare system, the unfortunate reality is that many mental health disorders are not fully resolved before a veteran returns to civilian life.

Types of PTSD

PTSD can be categorized into six different subtypes, each of which requires different treatment methods for effective resolution.

Normal Stress Response

PTSD starts with a normal stress response, which sometimes escalates into a lasting problem. It’s important to note that not all stress responses become PTSD. A stress response is a natural reaction to disturbing or life-threatening events. As a veteran, injuries, accidents, and stressful wartime situations are likely to cause stress and anxiety. Because this response is a natural and expected part of difficult experiences, it does not always result in long-term disruption of daily life.

When stressful events cause reactions, the best course of action to prevent it from developing into PTSD is talk therapy. Often just talking about the experience and being able to vent about feelings can be beneficial. Having support in individual or even group therapy can allow someone to process the event and find acceptance.

Acute Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder (ASD) is diagnosed when symptoms arise after a traumatic event and last anywhere between three days to one month. When symptoms last longer than that, a person will be diagnosed with PTSD. Experiencing or witnessing combat violence in war-stricken zones can leave someone feeling helpless and cause intense disruptive fear. This often results in ASD. ASD can be treated with talk therapy, but more intensive methods may be needed depending on the individual and the severity.

Uncomplicated PTSD

Uncomplicated PTSD is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that is caused by one specific event. It is referred to as “uncomplicated” because the event can often be pinpointed and treatment revolves around that one experience. Unlike other forms of PTSD, this type typically does not include co-occurring mental health complications.

Symptoms of uncomplicated PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, and a desire to avoid anything associated with the traumatic event.

Dissociative PTSD

Dissociative PTSD is a subtype of PTSD that was added to the DSM-5 to describe individuals with PTSD symptoms that also experience symptoms of depersonalization and derealization.

Traumatic events can be extremely overwhelming. When this overwhelm happens, our brains try to help us escape from the distress we feel. Depersonalization involves “out-of-body” experiences in which an individual does not see their bodies as their real self or doesn’t feel connected to their physical self. Derealization occurs when a person finds that the world around them begins to seem unreal. Derealization is different from a hallucination in that there is self-awareness that the feeling of false reality is not normal.

Complex PTSD

Complex or complicated PTSD is the opposite of uncomplicated PTSD. Repeated exposure to conflict and violence can lead to this form of PTSD. Additional trauma before or after military service can exacerbate PTSD symptoms and lead to the development of the complex form.

While this disorder is layered in nature, it is not untreatable. Multiple treatment modalities may be used for this kind of PTSD. With commitment, recovery is possible.

Co-Morbid PTSD

Mental health disorders are often co-morbid, meaning they occur at the same time as other disorders. Co-morbid PTSD is a common type of PTSD. Typical co-occurring disorders include anxiety, depression, or substance use disorder (SUD).

Types of Treatments

Several treatments are effective in treating PTSD. Although most people who seek treatment will find some degree of relief, it can take experimentation to find what works for each person.


Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is the leading form of PTSD treatment. This therapy focuses on identifying and understanding thought patterns and dysfunctional behavior. Symptoms can be greatly improved through processing emotions and reflecting on the events a person has experienced.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is also a type of psychotherapy that uses trauma and an external stimulus simultaneously to forge new connections. These new brain connections help a person reprogram how they perceive the event and resolve the feelings associated with it. They are then free to live a life free from the effects of the trauma.


While medication for PTSD can offer great benefits, long-term relief does not come with medication alone. When used along with psychotherapy, medication can help with daily functioning. Meanwhile, psychotherapies and other modalities can heal the underlying trauma and offer helpful coping mechanisms so that medication is not needed long term.

PTSD can be overwhelming. Even just remembering the events you’ve been through can impact daily functioning. As a veteran, the events you may have seen can follow you upon your return to civilian society and make it harder to live a normal life. However, you don’t have to let these experiences define you. At Sober Life, we offer flexible treatment options to meet you where you are at. If you are interested in more intensive rehabilitation, our partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs offer high levels of care optimized for recovery. Our outpatient and virtual outpatient programs offer you flexibility in receiving quality treatment with little disruption to your daily life. Call us today at (619) 542-9542 to learn more. 

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