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Harnessing Military Resilience: A Veteran’s Guide to Overcoming Addiction

Last Updated: February 9, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Military life places significant demands on individuals, requiring them to develop a unique form of resilience. Veterans, accustomed to enduring lengthy separations from family and the intense pressures of combat, possess an inner strength forged by their experiences. For those grappling with drug and alcohol addiction, the resilience they honed during their service can be a formidable asset on their path to recovery.

Military Resilience, Veterans and the Battle Against Addiction

Embedded within military culture is the expectation that service members must exhibit exceptional mental toughness. Soldiers frequently shoulder responsibilities that demand personal sacrifices, fostering resilience as a result. Researchers have explored the concept of military resilience, offering valuable insights:

  • Military resilience is often described as the inner strength necessary to navigate the unique challenges of combat.
  • Resilient soldiers demonstrate the ability to adapt seamlessly to shifting circumstances.
  • Resilience also encompasses the capacity to unearth positivity even amid adverse conditions.

Remarkably, the same resilience that enabled veterans to endure the rigors of combat can serve as a potent ally in overcoming addiction.

Applying Military Resilience to the Journey of Drug & Alcohol Rehabilitation

Military resilience encompasses the reliance on social support, the adoption of adaptive coping mechanisms and the ability to surmount adversity—qualities that are vital for survival in the military. These same qualities also translate effectively into addiction treatment.

For example, during the detoxification process, veterans must summon their resilience to combat the negative effects of withdrawal. Similarly, veterans must confront their past traumas during treatment, reflecting the determination required during combat situations. 

Military Training Messages and Their Role in Maintaining Sobriety

Military training imparts essential messages about dedication and resilience to service members. These messages play a crucial role in recovery and the maintenance of sobriety.

Thriving Amid Stressors

The ability to withstand stress is a fundamental requirement of military service. Service members are not only trained to endure stress but to evolve and grow through it. This mirrors the resilience needed in addiction recovery, where developing coping skills and engaging in relapse prevention require the capacity to flourish in the face of challenges. 

Embracing Personal Courage

Personal courage is a core value in the military, especially during risky situations. This same courage can be reframed during addiction treatment. Seeking help for addiction should be viewed as an act of bravery rather than a sign of weakness.

The Significance of Gratitude

Military resilience training programs highlight the importance of gratitude. Service members are taught to focus on the positive aspects of life, akin to maintaining a gratitude journal. Gratitude plays a pivotal role in addiction recovery by helping individuals identify their strengths and apply them to maintain sobriety. 

Applying Military Resilience to Achieving Long-Term Recovery

Sustaining long-term recovery from drug and alcohol addiction undoubtedly demands resilience. Fortunately, the resilience cultivated during military service can be effectively applied in recovery.

For instance, managing triggers that lead to drug and alcohol use necessitates utilizing inner strength. In moments of stress or temptation, resilience can help veterans avoid relapse and develop healthy coping mechanisms, such as seeking social support or employing stress management techniques. When confronted with the challenges of entering a treatment program or ceasing substance use that once served as a coping mechanism, veterans can rely on their strength to confront addiction head-on, as if it were their next mission.

When Resilience Alone Isn’t Enough, Professional Treatment Steps In

Personal resilience is a valuable asset, but professional treatment often becomes an essential component of recovery. Taking the courageous step of seeking help is the first stride toward addressing drug or alcohol addiction.

For veterans dealing with addiction and co-occurring disorders like PTSD or depression, effective treatment methods are indispensable. In many cases, these conditions are addressed through various approaches:

  • Therapies: Talk therapy, particularly cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and prolonged exposure (PE), holds significant value for veterans, particularly those with co-occurring addiction and PTSD. Both forms of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) have proven beneficial.
  • Medication: Certain medications aid in managing drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms and co-occurring conditions like depression or anxiety.
  • Group Therapy: Group therapy plays a central role in veterans’ treatment programs, offering opportunities to learn from others who have faced similar challenges.

Inpatient Rehab for Veterans: A Strong Foundation

Veterans may find inpatient programs beneficial as they embark on their recovery journey. These programs provide a break from everyday triggers by allowing veterans to reside at a treatment facility. They offer around-the-clock care, structured daily routines, individual and group therapy and recreational activities. Some programs, like the FORTITUDE program, cater exclusively to veterans and first responders, offering specialized group therapy and trauma-informed modalities like EMDR.

Leveraging VA Health Insurance for Private, Specialized Care

While the VA extends a range of treatment options, situations may arise where accessing care outside the VA becomes necessary. Thankfully, the VA Community Care Network (CCN) facilitates access to private, specialized care providers, including addiction rehabilitation centers.

To seek treatment through a CCN provider, initiate the “consult creation and review” process with your physician. Receiving prior approval from the VA is essential before pursuing care from a CCN provider, and the VA will cover the cost of these services once they are approved.

Take the First Step Toward Healing: Seek Help Today

If you’re grappling with substance use disorder or co-occurring mental health conditions, reaching out for treatment is the first step toward recovery. Whether through the VA or local mental health treatment centers offering specialized programs for veterans, embarking on this journey may seem daunting. Nevertheless, remember that the military resilience cultivated within you has uniquely prepared you for this transformative moment.


Simmons, Angela. “Military Resilience: A Concept Analysis.” Nursing Forum, 2013. Accessed October 14, 2023. 

Adler, Amy; Sowden, Walter. “Resilience in the Military: The Double-Edged Sword of Military Culture.” Military and Veteran Mental Health, 2018. Accessed October 14, 2023.

Chen, Gila. “Does gratitude promote recovery from substance misuse?.” Addiction Research & Theory, 2017. Accessed October 15, 2023. 

National Center for PTSD. “Effective Treatments for PTSD: Consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as First Line Treatment.” January 2015. Accessed October 15, 2023.