Why Veterans Struggle with Addiction


Veterans may be done fighting in the military, but many people do not realise that some continue to fight addiction and substance abuse. And, it is more common than people may think, which is why addiction help for veterans is available. But, why are veterans more likely to struggle with addiction anyway?

Mental Health

How Common is Addiction with Veterans?

Did you know that more than 2 out of 10 veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also have a substance abuse disorder? Combat exposure, multiple deployments, and other traumatic events can trigger drug or alcohol use in veterans. Unfortunately, this often leads to addiction.

Common Causes of Addiction for Veterans

Several factors can cause addiction and substance abuse troubles for those who served. Below are some of the primary reasons a veteran may suffer from these common conditions:

Coping with PTSD

Many veterans who have an addiction problem often have co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is generally caused by witnessing or experiencing a tragic or startling event. Veterans with PTSD are 14 times more likely to have a substance abuse disorder, mainly from attempting to self-medicate or null the symptoms.

Addictive Prescription Medications

Doctors often prescribe veterans with PTSD prescription medications to help them cope with their depression, anxiety, or other symptoms. These tend to be benzodiazepines, sedatives, or prescription opioids, all of which can be highly addictive. Veterans without PTSD can also become addicted to painkillers to help with injuries they have received during combat.

Some of the common prescription medications veterans can become addicted to include:

  • OxyContin.
  • Xanax.
  • Valium.
  • Hydrocodone.

Family History

Did you know that genetic factors make up to 75% of substance abuse and addiction cases? You are more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol if someone else in the family has struggled with addiction.

Mental Health Conditions

Mental health concerns and addiction can sometimes occur together for several reasons. Those with unaddressed mental health problems may misuse substances to self-medicate. These conditions can also change brain composition and genetic vulnerabilities.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

Although people can experience troubles with drugs and alcohol before a brain injury, between 10% and 20% of individuals can develop an addiction for the first time after one. Sometimes it can lead to people drinking or using drugs more than they intend. If you have a brain injury and use alcohol or drugs, you might have greater problems with your brain’s structure and function.

Trouble Transitioning to Civilian Life

Those who served for a while might have difficulty transitioning to normal civilian life. This may cause excess stress, leading to mental illness and substance abuse. Studies have shown that up to 44% of veterans express difficulty transitioning from military to civilian life.

What Does Treatment Look Like?

Treatment centres offer a range of services, so treatment will vary for everyone. Below is a general idea of what you can expect once you start seeking help for your addiction.


Detoxification, or detox for short, is the process of safely eliminating all the addictive substances from your body. This is done in a medical setting and should never be attempted on your own. Detoxing is highly beneficial in your treatment because it can lessen the unpleasant effects of withdrawal symptoms.

Please note that this is used in conjunction with other therapies and does not treat the underlying behavioral cause of addiction.

Setting Goals and Objectives

Veterans seeking addiction treatment will learn to set goals and take the necessary steps to achieve them. Based on the specific issues you want to target during your treatment, this can look different for everyone. You will list all the problems and work with a professional to develop the best solutions.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Many experts believe that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)is a valuable treatment tool for people who struggle with addiction. It is designed to help you recognise your unhealthy issues while teaching you how to develop coping skills. This type of intervention helps you identify your triggers and can be combined with other therapies.

Tracking and Evaluating Progress

Your provider will track your progress to determine how well the treatment is going for you. They will take notes on your response to the treatment, any changes in your condition, and any necessary adjustments to your plan. You need to be honest during this part of treatment so your provider can gather accurate results.

Long Term Care

Relapsing after treatment is much more common than you may think. For this reason, your provider may also discuss long-term care solutions to prevent that from happening. Some of these may include:

  • 12-step meetings.
  • Support groups.
  • Continuing psychotherapy.
  • Prescription medications.

Some Things to Remember

It can become too easy to give up if you are not seeing progress the way you want. Here are some things to think about when you feel like you can not finish your treatment.

  • You are not alone.
  • Progress should be celebrated no matter how slowly.
  • It is not easy, but it is worth it.
  • Recovery gives you the chance to build a new life.
  • You are much stronger than you think.

There is Addiction Help for Veterans Available

Addiction and substance abuse may be common for veterans, but help is always available. Many in-patient and out-patient programmes are designed to help you, and you will always have someone with your best interests in mind. Recovery from addiction is possible – all you need to do is take that first step.


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