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Applying Military Strength: Mastering Addiction Recovery as a Veteran

Written by Melissa Carmona

& Medically Reviewed by Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

Medically Reviewed

Up to Date

This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, help is available. Speak with a Recovery Advocate by calling (360) 857-0007 now.

Addiction is a pressing issue within the veteran community. Recent national data reveals that approximately 8.4% of U.S. veterans aged 18 and older experience an alcohol use disorder, while 3.5% grapple with a marijuana use disorder. Furthermore, 2.4% misuse prescription painkillers, placing them at risk of opioid addiction.

Despite the prevalence of substance misuse among veterans, seeking help for addiction can be a significant challenge. If you’re searching for resources for veteran addiction, remember that you’re not alone, and effective treatment is accessible.

The Unseen Battle: Conquering Stigma in the Armed Forces

Regrettably, stigma often dissuades veterans from seeking help for addiction. Within the confines of military culture, seeking assistance for mental health or addiction concerns can be interpreted as a sign of weakness. Recent research has shown that veterans with PTSD frequently perceive treatment-seeking through a stigmatized lens, which can lead them to turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism. This escalates the risk of alcohol-related issues.

This stigma may compel veterans to wage a solitary war against addiction, potentially exacerbating both mental health and addiction challenges over time.

Facing Reality: Embracing Change

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

Addiction is not uncommon among veterans seeking 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, but quality treatment options are available to guide you toward recovery.

Reimagining Resilience: A Fresh Outlook

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

Unleash Your Inner Warrior

Overcoming addiction demands tremendous strength, and your experiences in the service have likely provided you with 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 in Asking for Help

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

Embrace 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 embark on 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.

Breaking Stereotypes & 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: Share insights about the nature of addiction, emphasizing that it’s a legitimate medical condition that can improve with treatment. Often, stigma stems from misconceptions and stereotyped views. Through education, you can empower your loved ones to understand the facts and move beyond generalized stereotypes.
  • Normalize Addiction Treatment: Discuss addiction treatment as an integral component of routine healthcare. Many primary care physicians and other service providers, including those within the VA, seamlessly integrate addiction treatment into comprehensive care plans. These plans encompass treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders and other medical conditions. When addiction treatment is perceived as an essential facet of healthcare, the stigma tends to diminish.
  • Share Selective Information: If you anticipate that your loved ones may not be accepting or understanding, consider sharing only general information about the treatment you’re seeking. For instance, you can explain that you’re receiving treatment for a health issue related to your time in the service. Remember, you are not obligated to divulge personal details to those who may not be supportive of your choice to seek treatment.
  • Ignore Negative Opinions: It’s not uncommon for individuals who perceive addiction or treatment-seeking as signs of weakness to base their beliefs on misinformation or stereotypes. These misguided beliefs can hinder your progress during recovery. Therefore, it’s advisable to disregard negative opinions and misinformation and stay focused on your path to wellness.
  • Question the Perceived Stigma: It’s important to recognize that the stigma you perceive may not necessarily reflect reality. Extensive research on veterans has revealed that the fear of stigma can deter veterans from seeking treatment. However, most veterans have expressed their non-judgmental stance toward a fellow veteran seeking help. In essence, you may be your harshest critic, as your peers are likely to be more understanding and supportive than you realize.

Establishing 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 towards recovery.

It’s also advantageous to immerse yourself in a supportive recovery community. Building connections with peers, especially other veterans, during support group meetings can be especially helpful. 

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

Professional Treatment Harnesses Your Strength

Overcoming addiction on your own can be difficult, 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, remember that treatment can help. 

At The Recovery Village, we proudly provide addiction treatment services designed to meet 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.

View 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.