Supporting A Veteran Recovering From Addiction

  • Written by:

    Bedrock Recovery Center

  • Dr. Johnelle Smith
    Medically reviewed by:

    Johnelle Smith, M.D

How To Support Veterans In Recovery

Many don’t fully realize the hardships and sacrifices made by those who have served our country. This can make it difficult to help a veteran with a substance addiction. 

By being a caring and knowledgeable advocate, you can be there for them and make informed suggestions, such as encouraging them to attend dual diagnosis treatment for addiction and PTSD or depression. 

Read on to learn more ways to help a veteran with a substance use disorder (SUD). 

4 Ways To Help A Veteran With An Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than one in 10 veterans have been diagnosed with substance use disorder. 

Many of these veterans have family members who can’t relate to their experiences while deployed. 

Thankfully, there are things you can do to help, no matter your level of experience with substance use or the military. 

1. Educate Yourself 

Becoming informed on the challenges veterans face when they come back from service can help you better understand their struggles. 

Challenges veterans deal with when returning back from deployment: 

  • experiencing other mental health problems beyond SUD, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD
  • unemployment
  • homelessness 
  • prolonged separation from loved ones 
  • major lifestyle changes
  • isolation

Many of these factors can contribute to or worsen a substance abuse issue.

Unfortunately, many veterans with SUDs have other co-occurring mental health disorders, which can make recovery more challenging. 

Mental health issues can cause:

  • difficulty relating to others emotionally 
  • constant anger, guilt, fear, and other emotions
  • trouble concentrating
  • an easily angered or overly sensitive temperament
  • nightmares
  • trouble sleeping 
  • loss of interest in past hobbies and activities

Speaking with mental health professionals and loved ones of other veterans with similar issues can make you better prepared to deal with the fallout of addiction. 

2. Know Their Triggers

There are many things that can bring up traumatic experiences for a veteran. These triggers can cause a veteran to act out, isolate, and numb their feelings with substances. 

At first, you might not know something is a trigger until it happens. If and when it does happen, make a mental note to try to avoid doing those actions. 

If appropriate, you can also ask what in particular they struggle with. You can also ask them what may make them feel better, or what you can do to help. 

Understanding the complexities of a veteran’s experience and what can cause them sudden stress or anxiety will help them deal with triggers in a healthy way. 

3. Encourage Them To Seek Help

Knowing that a veteran with an addiction requires more specialized care is important when suggesting they get help. 

Try to speak with love and care when giving suggestions. Some may have to hear something a few times before they seek out treatment. Be patient and give them time. 

There is a stigma amongst some military personnel that seeking mental health help is “weak.” Encouraging a veteran to get help makes them feel they have someone on their side. 

The U.S Department of Veteran Affairs offers support and resources for substance use treatment for veterans

4. Don’t Blame Them Or Yourself 

It’s easy to throw blame around when life is proving difficult for a veteran. Frustration is normal, but if you place blame on them or yourself, it may make the situation harder. 

Understanding that mental health issues are medically diagnosed disorders that require long-term treatment can help bring compassion and levity. 

Let the veteran know that you empathize with the fact they are dealing with a health issue and that you want to help. 

Contrarily, make sure to not place blame on yourself when they are struggling. You don’t have to take on the load of their recovery. Your job is to be supportive and understanding, not to fix them. 

The Connection Between Veterans And Addiction 

The realities of training, deployment, and combat can be very burdensome. While on active duty, soldiers deal with isolation, long hours, and having to be on constant alert. 

Military culture promotes the idea of unitedness, similar to fraternities and college football teams. This creates lasting bonds, and drinking is used as a reward tool after a long day.

When they come back home, they are bombarded with many different changes. Life can move too fast or too slow compared to being on duty. 

They must make their own schedules and find work, things they didn’t have to worry about for years in the very structured army schedule. 

All these new stressors can cause someone to indulge in substances in an effort to ease the transition back to civilian life. 

In many cases, self-medicating with alcohol and drugs only causes more stress. 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder And Substance Abuse 

One of the most talked-about issues with veterans is the high rate of PTSD. 

PTSD is a mental health condition that is described as having flashbacks, extreme anxiety, and compulsion about a particularly high-stress time or event. 

The symptoms of PTSD can be scary for the veteran and those around them. It can cause depression, anxiety, and embarrassment — all of which can increase their desire to drink or use. 

If someone is experiencing PTSD around you, get them to a secluded area, let them know they are safe, and ask if they need anything. Then, look into professional treatment options.

What To Look For In Addiction Treatment For Veterans 

On top of typical outpatient and residential inpatient programs, there are many specific services that can best serve veterans. 

Dual diagnosis treatment often works best for people with co-occurring mental health disorders.

Many treatment centers also incorporate trauma therapy. This can help manage PTSD and addiction together, taking into account how each disorder exacerbates the other. 

Specific 12-step group meetings based around veterans can make staying sober after treatment easier. 

Treatment For Substance Abuse In Massachusetts

There are addiction treatment options available for you or a loved one recovering from addiction after returning home from service. 

At Bedrock Recovery Center, we offer detox programs, access to 12-step group meetings, and cognitive behavioral therapy, among many other services. 

Reach out to a specialist to learn more. 


Sources:

Community Anti-Drug Coalitions Of America – Strategies For Addressing Substance Abuse In Veteran Populations

National Institute On Drug Abuse – Substance Use and Military Life 

United States Department Of Veteran Affairs – Substance Use Treatment