Veterans and Substance Use Disorders: Heroes Are Human Too

September 3, 2021

Veterans and Substance use disorder, PTSD Treatment for Veterans, Veterans Often Struggle With Substance Use Disorders,

Heroes Are Human Too

We quite rightly think of those who serve in the armed forces as heroes. Every member of the military makes significant sacrifices in order to serve—and, of course, there is always the danger that they will be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice while defending America’s freedom and values.

But when we think of heroes, we often imagine them as people who are invulnerable to harm, who always make the right choice, and who will always be okay in the end. After all, if a person is a hero, their very heroism should protect them from harm, right?

If only it were that easy. Our heroes truly have accomplished something amazing, but it is essential that we remember that they are not, in fact, invincible. In fact, many veterans struggle with the transition from military life to civilian life. And all too often, veterans turn to drugs or alcohol to help them manage the new challenges they are facing. In fact, studies reveal that more than 10 percent of veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder.

Let’s take a closer look at what leads to substance use among veterans and what can be done to help.

Reasons and Reluctance: Veterans and Substance Use Disorders

There are a number of reasons a veteran might find themselves turning to drugs or alcohol after their military career has come to an end. We have already mentioned that the transition from life in the military back to daily life as a civilian can prove challenging. Some veterans, for example, find that they no longer feel the strong sense of purpose they felt while serving their country, and that loss can be quite difficult to come to terms with.

Meanwhile, many veterans are struggling with chronic pain and are understandably eager to find relief. That relief may be available in the form of strong opioid pain medications, but opioids open a veteran up to the danger of becoming addicted to their meds. In these cases, injuries sustained while serving our country end up leading to the development of a substance use disorder in civilian life.

Veterans also often struggle with mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. If a veteran decides to “self-medicate” in the hope of overcoming a mental health challenge, there is a good chance they will end up with a substance use disorder.

The problem of addiction is made worse by the reluctance many veterans feel about getting help. They, too, may have come to believe in the hero narrative or self-reliance. If so, they might feel embarrassed or ashamed about needing help and therefore decide to try to go it alone. They may also feel as if no one in civilian life can truly understand their experiences in the service. As a result, they may very well convince themselves that no one can really help them.

The good news is that they are wrong about that. Excellent care created specifically to meet the needs of veterans who are struggling with a substance use disorder is available.

Commons Reasons for Substance Use Disorders Among Veterans:

  1. Deployment and Combat Exposure: Veterans who have been deployed to combat zones may experience traumatic events and high levels of stress, which can increase the risk of developing SUDs as a way to cope with these experiences.
  2. Chronic Pain and Prescription Medications: Many veterans experience chronic pain as a result of injuries sustained during their service. This can lead to the use of prescription pain medications, which, if misused, can contribute to the development of SUDs.
  3. Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders: Veterans are at an increased risk of co-occurring mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. Substance use may be a way to self-medicate and manage the symptoms of these disorders.
  4. Social and Peer Influence: The military culture and camaraderie can sometimes normalize substance use, making it more likely for veterans to engage in risky behaviors, including alcohol and drug misuse.
  5. Transition Challenges: Transitioning from military to civilian life can be challenging, and veterans may struggle with finding a sense of purpose or a support system outside of the military. Substance use may be an attempt to cope with these challenges.

Reluctance to Seek Help for Substance Use Disorders Among Veterans

  1. Stigma: There is often a strong stigma associated with seeking help for mental health and substance use issues, which can be particularly pronounced in military culture. Veterans may fear that acknowledging their SUD will harm their career prospects or reputation.
  2. Self-Reliance: Military training emphasizes self-reliance and toughness. This can lead to a reluctance to admit vulnerability or ask for help, even when struggling with substance use.
  3. Mistrust of the Healthcare System: Some veterans may have had negative experiences with the healthcare system, leading to mistrust. They may be hesitant to seek care for SUDs due to concerns about the quality of treatment.
  4. Lack of Awareness: Some veterans may not be aware of the resources available to them for addiction treatment or may underestimate the severity of their substance use.
  5. Fear of Legal Consequences: Veterans may fear legal consequences, especially if they obtained drugs illicitly during or after their military service.
  6. Family and Relationship Concerns: Concerns about the impact of seeking treatment on family relationships or the potential for child custody issues can deter veterans from seeking help.

Tactical Recovery Meets Vets Where They Are

A program known as Tactical Recovery, which was created in partnership with the national nonprofit known as PsychArmor), can help veterans overcome a substance use disorder. This evidence-based, trauma-informed, culturally competent approach to treatment meets veterans where they are and provides care, support, and resources designed to resonate with veterans and help them complete their latest mission: regaining and maintaining sobriety.

In addition, the Tactical Recovery program also addresses co-occurring mental health disorders that a veteran may be dealing with. Sobriety and good mental health are aligned—and Tactical Recovery ensures that vets are given the tools they need to support both.

The Farley Center Is Proud to Offer Tactical Recovery

Tactical Recovery Program; Portrait of smiling diverse veterans at PTSD support group

Everyone at The Farley Center is grateful for the service of all of America’s veterans—and we are eager to serve veterans who are struggling with a substance use disorder. Tactical Recovery provides us with a framework to help ensure that veterans get the care, compassion, and respect they deserve.

If you are a veteran who has developed an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you don’t have to struggle on your own. The Farley Center is ready and able to help you reclaim your sobriety—and your life. In the end, a true hero knows when it is time to get help. If that time has arrived for you, we would be truly honored to serve you.

Military Intensive Outpatient Program (M-IOP)

Our Military IOP (M-IOP for short) is designed to address the unique needs and challenges associated with the members of our military, law enforcement, and first responder clients.

Successful treatment outcomes have been strongly linked to the therapeutic alliance formed between the practitioner and the client. Our clinicians all have a military/law enforcement background as well as extensive experience treating this population.

Our program provides the support, structure, and accountability needed for long-term recovery while also allowing clients to maintain work, school, or family commitments. Treatment programming is designed to address individual risks for relapse and current environmental stressors.


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