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Rebuilding Your Strength: Navigating Addiction Recovery as a Veteran

Last Updated: January 16, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Addiction is a prevalent challenge among veterans. National data indicates that around 8.4% of U.S. veterans aged 18 and above grapple with alcohol use disorder, while 3.5% contend with a marijuana use disorder. An additional 2.4% misuse prescription painkillers, putting them at risk of opioid addiction.

Despite the commonality of substance misuse among veterans, seeking help for addiction can be a formidable hurdle. If you’re in search of resources for veteran addiction, understand that you’re not alone, and effective treatment options are readily available.

Confronting Silence: Overcoming Stigma in the Military

Regrettably, stigma can serve as a powerful deterrent, preventing veterans from seeking addiction treatment. Within military culture, reaching out for help with mental health or addiction concerns can be perceived as a sign of weakness. Recent research has shown that veterans with PTSD often view treatment-seeking through a stigmatized lens, which can lead them to resort to alcohol as a coping mechanism, thereby elevating the risk of alcohol-related problems.

This stigma may compel veterans to fight alone instead of seeking treatment, potentially exacerbating both mental health and addiction challenges over time.

Embracing Reality: The Path to Recovery

Veterans may have been conditioned to believe that reaching out for help signifies weakness or character flaws. However, seeking professional help for addiction is, in fact, an act of courage and strength. Addiction is a significant health issue, just the same as any other medical condition, and acknowledging the problem marks the initial stride toward recovery.

Veterans often need to seek behavioral health treatment. Approximately 11% of veterans seeking initial VA services meet the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder. The most prevalent issues among veterans are heavy drinking and smoking, but 4.8% of male veterans and 2.4% of female veterans meet the criteria for drug addiction.

If you’re seeking veteran addiction treatment, remember that you’re not alone in this journey. Many fellow veterans have faced similar challenges related to substance misuse, often as a means of coping with the demands of military life. Quality treatment options are available to guide you toward recovery.

Reinventing Resilience: A Fresh Perspective

Reaching out for help may seem daunting, but it’s far from a sign of weakness. If you’re finding it challenging to accept the need for addiction treatment, consider reframing the ways you think about strength. 

Harnessing Your Inner Warrior

Overcoming addiction demands tremendous strength, and your experiences in the service have likely helped you develop the resilience necessary to confront this challenge. Coping with deployment, exposure to combat and reintegration into civilian life demands an inner strength that can also guide you through the journey of recovery.

The Courage to Seek Assistance

It’s time to discard the belief that seeking help implies weakness or inherent personality flaws. Admitting that you need help to recover is a testament to your self-awareness and strength.

Embracing the Path to Recovery

Without a doubt, veterans possess the inner strength required to overcome addiction. Once you recognize this innate strength within yourself, it’s time to begin your next mission: entering a treatment program.

While each individual’s treatment journey is unique, you can anticipate engaging in various services, including individual and group therapy and support group sessions, as you progress through your recovery.

You might choose to initiate your recovery journey in an inpatient treatment program, which offers structure and removes you from triggers and stressors in your home environment. Following inpatient treatment, many veterans transition to an outpatient program, where they continue therapy and group sessions while residing at home.

Shattering Stereotypes and Overcoming Barriers

When the decision to seek veteran addiction treatment is made, concerns about stigma from friends, family or fellow veterans with biased views on mental health and addiction may surface.

To address these concerns:

  • Educate your loved ones about addiction as a legitimate medical condition that can improve with treatment.
  • Portray addiction treatment as an integral part of routine healthcare.
  • Share only general information about your treatment if you’re concerned about unsupportive individuals.
  • Disregard negative opinions and misinformation.
  • Recognize that the perceived stigma may not necessarily align with reality; research on veterans has shown that fear of stigma can be a barrier to treatment-seeking, but most veterans report they would not judge a fellow veteran for seeking help.

Building a Support System

Support is indispensable as you embark on your mission to recover from addiction. The VA offers an array of services and resources intended to support veterans dealing with addiction symptoms. Reaching out to the VA can connect you with counseling, self-help groups and relapse prevention as you begin your journey toward recovery.

It’s also advantageous to immerse yourself in a supportive recovery community. Building connections with peers, especially other veterans, during support group meetings is often highly beneficial.

Additionally, surround yourself with friends and family who support your decision to seek treatment while distancing yourself from those who hold onto stigmatized views of addiction.

Professional Treatment for Veterans

Overcoming addiction on your own can be challenging, but professional treatment opens the door to healing. In a veterans addiction treatment program, you’ll have access to services such as therapy, group counseling and medication to assist you in your battle against addiction. If breaking free from drugs or alcohol feels like a formidable challenge, seeking treatment is admirable. 

At The Recovery Village, we tailor our addiction treatment services around the unique needs of veterans and first responders. We also offer co-occurring disorders treatment to address mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and PTSD, which often coexist with addiction.

Sources

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Veteran Adults.” July 2022. Accessed September 30, 2023. 

Miller, Stephen; Pedersen, Eric; Marshall, Grant. “Combat experience and problem drinking in veterans: Exploring the roles of PTSD, coping motives, and perceived stigma.” Addictive Behaviors, March 2017. Accessed September 30, 2023. 

Teeters, Jenni; Lancaster, Cynthia; Brown, Delisa; Back, Sudie. “Substance use disorders in military veterans: prevalence and treatment challenges.” Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 2017. Accessed October 1, 2023. 

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Substance use treatment for Veterans.” October 12, 2022. Accessed October 1, 2023. 

Kulesza, Magdalena; Pedersen, Eric; Corrigan, Patrick; Marshall, Grant. “Help-Seeking Stigma and Mental Health Treatment Seeking Among Young Adult Veterans.” Military Behavioral Health, 2015. Accessed October 1, 2023.