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Empowering Veterans: Tools to Combat Triggers and Sustain Recovery

Last Updated: March 2, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Navigating recovery from addiction entails learning effective ways to cope with triggers and avoid falling back into old habits. Triggers are a universal experience for those in recovery, yet veterans have to tackle specific challenges arising from their military service. Fortunately, there are specialized techniques to manage these veteran-related triggers, helping to sustain a firm commitment to recovery.

Understanding Veterans’ Battle with Addiction

Transitioning from military service to civilian life poses unique hurdles, including the struggle against addiction. Studies indicate that approximately 11% of veterans seeking support from the VA confront substance use disorders, although the actual prevalence may be higher.

Among male veterans, the prevalence of alcohol use disorder stands at 10.5%, while drug use disorder is reported at 4.8%. For female veterans, these rates are slightly lower, at 4.8% and 2.4%, respectively.

The stressors inherent in military service, such as combat exposure and traumatic experiences, can predispose veterans to addiction. Drug and alcohol use can become  coping mechanisms to alleviate the physical and emotional burdens endured during service.

Navigating Unique Triggers: PTSD and Mental Health Challenges

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a significant trigger for addiction among veterans, with approximately one-third of those seeking addiction treatment also contending with PTSD.

Symptoms associated with PTSD, such as intrusive memories and sleep disturbances, can serve as catalysts for substance use as a means of coping. However, reliance on substances tends to exacerbate underlying mental health conditions over time, intensifying issues like depression.

Addressing Pain-Related Triggers: Managing Service-Connected Injuries

Service-related injuries, often treated with opioid pain medications, pose another significant trigger for addiction among veterans. Studies underscore the prevalent prescription of opioids to veterans for managing chronic pain, especially among those living with co-occurring mental health conditions.

Veterans coping with injuries and chronic pain may resort to substance use as a way to self-medicate. However, the risk of addiction escalates, particularly for individuals concurrently diagnosed with PTSD or other mental health disorders.

Tackling Common Triggers: Shared Obstacles in Recovery

In addition to unique triggers, veterans face common relapse triggers such as stress, social isolation, and drug cravings. Nonetheless, effective strategies exist to navigate these challenges and maintain sobriety.

Strategies for Coping with Veteran-Specific Triggers

Mitigating PTSD-related triggers necessitates tailored approaches, including:

  • Seeking support from trusted confidants and family members
  • Engaging in pleasurable hobbies and activities to uplift spirits
  • Embracing relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga
  • Enjoying the therapeutic benefits of nature through outdoor activities

Navigating Pain-Related Triggers

Veterans grappling with pain-related triggers can explore alternative pain management strategies, including:

  • Embracing the benefits of massage therapy to alleviate physical discomfort
  • Cultivating mindfulness practices to foster self-awareness and alleviate stress
  • Utilizing the rehabilitative potential of physical and occupational therapy to enhance functionality
  • Harnessing the holistic benefits of exercise modalities like Tai Chi and yoga to promote overall well-being and pain relief

Building Resilience: General Relapse Prevention Techniques

In addition to veteran-specific strategies, universal relapse prevention techniques play an important role in fortifying sobriety:

  • Participating in support groups such as AA or NA to foster camaraderie and gain insights
  • Prioritizing self-care through holistic lifestyle habits, including nutrition, exercise, and restorative sleep
  • Avoiding triggers associated with addiction by exercising vigilance in identifying and avoiding risky situations
  • Employing stress management techniques to navigate life’s challenges without turning to substance use

Tools for Managing Triggers

An array of resources stands ready to assist veterans in navigating addiction and mental health challenges, including:

Supplements, Not Substitutes

While these tools serve as valuable adjuncts to recovery efforts, they do not replace professional treatment. Enrolling in a comprehensive treatment program tailored to veterans’ unique needs is essential for fostering lasting recovery.

Explore Veteran-Centric Treatment

Veterans embarking on the path to addiction recovery can find comfort in specialized programs like the FORTITUDE program offered by The Recovery Village. These programs address addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders, furnishing personalized support for veterans and first responders. Connect with a Veteran Advocate today to begin your journey towards holistic healing and restoration.


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U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans.” March 30, 2023. Accessed November 21, 2023. 

Menon, Jayakrishnan; Kandasamy, Arun. “Relapse prevention.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, February 2018. Accessed November 22, 2023. 

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Coping with Traumatic Stress Reactions.” March 30, 2023. Accessed November 22, 2023. 

Giannitrapani, Karleen, et al. “Veteran Experiences Seeking Non-pharmacologic Approaches for Pain.” Military Medicine, 2018. Accessed November 22, 2023. 

Melemis, Steven. “Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, September 2015. Accessed November 22, 2023.  

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Coping With Unwanted Thoughts: RESET for Active-duty Soldiers.” June 7, 2023. Accessed November 22, 2023. 

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “VA Mobile Apps.” August 25, 2022. Accessed November 22, 2023. 

National Center for PTSD. “PTSD Coach Online.” Accessed November 22, 2023. 

VetChange. “Take Control of Your Drinking.” Accessed November 22, 2023. 

National Center for PTSD. “Insomnia Coach.” June 11, 2020. Accessed February 21, 2024.