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Equipping Veterans: Strategies for Overcoming Triggers and Sustaining Recovery

& Medically Reviewed by Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

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Last Updated - 03/03/2024

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Updated 03/03/2024

The process of recovering from addiction demands an understanding of how to confront triggers without relapsing. Triggers are a part of the recovery landscape for everyone, but veterans are faced with distinct challenges that stem from their service experiences. There are, fortunately, effective strategies tailored to manage these veteran-specific triggers, reinforcing one’s dedication to staying sober.

Understanding Veterans’ Struggle with Addiction

Transitioning from military to civilian life presents unique challenges, including grappling with addiction. Studies reveal that around 11% of veterans seeking support from the VA live with substance use disorders, with potentially higher prevalence rates being possible.

Among male veterans, alcohol use disorder affects 10.5%, while drug use disorder stands at 4.8%. Female veterans report slightly lower rates, with alcohol use disorder at 4.8% and drug use disorder at 2.4%.

Military service stressors, such as combat exposure and trauma, can predispose veterans to addiction. Drugs and alcohol often become coping mechanisms to alleviate the physical and emotional burdens endured during service.

Navigating Unique Triggers: PTSD and Mental Health Challenges

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) emerges as a significant trigger for addiction among veterans, with approximately one-third of those seeking addiction treatment diagnosed with PTSD.

Symptoms associated with PTSD, such as intrusive memories and sleep disturbances, can serve as catalysts for substance use as a coping mechanism. However, relying on substances tends to exacerbate underlying mental health conditions over time, worsening issues like depression.

Addressing Pain-Related Triggers: Managing Service-Connected Injuries

Service-related injuries, often treated with opioid pain medications, pose another significant trigger for addiction among veterans. Studies underscore the prevalent prescription of opioids to veterans for managing chronic pain, especially among those with co-occurring mental health conditions.

Veterans coping with injuries and chronic pain may resort to substance use as a coping mechanism. However, the risk of addiction escalates, particularly for individuals concurrently diagnosed with PTSD or other mental health disorders.

Tackling Common Triggers: Shared Obstacles in Recovery

In addition to unique triggers, veterans experience common relapse triggers such as stress, social isolation, and drug cravings. Nonetheless, effective strategies exist to navigate these challenges and stay committed to sobriety.

Strategies for Coping with Veteran-Specific Triggers

Mitigating PTSD-related triggers warrants tailored approaches, including:

  • Seeking support from trusted confidants and family members
  • Engaging in pleasurable hobbies and activities to improve mood 
  • Embracing relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga
  • Surrounding oneself with the therapeutic benefits of nature through outdoor activities

Navigating Pain-Related Triggers

Veterans grappling with pain-related triggers can explore alternative pain management strategies, including:

  • Embracing the healing touch of massage therapy to alleviate physical discomfort
  • Cultivating mindfulness practices to foster self-awareness and alleviate stress
  • Utilizing the rehabilitative potential of physical and occupational therapy to enhance functionality
  • Using the holistic benefits of exercise modalities like Tai Chi and yoga to promote overall well-being and pain relief

Building Resilience: General Relapse Prevention Techniques

In addition to veteran-specific strategies, universal relapse prevention techniques play a key  role in fortifying sobriety:

  • Participating in support groups such as AA or NA to foster camaraderie and gain insights
  • Prioritizing self-care through holistic lifestyle habits encompassing nutrition, exercise, and restorative sleep
  • Avoiding triggers associated with addiction by using caution to identify and avoid risky situations
  • Employing stress management techniques to navigate life’s challenges without resorting to substance use

Tools for Managing Triggers

An array of resources is available to assist veterans in navigating addiction and mental health challenges, including:

Supplements, Not Substitutes

While these tools serve as valuable adjuncts to recovery efforts, they do not replace professional treatment. Enrolling in a comprehensive treatment program tailored to veterans’ unique needs is essential for fostering lasting recovery.

Explore Veteran-Centric Treatment

Veterans embarking on the path to addiction recovery can find solace in specialized programs like the FORTITUDE program offered by The Recovery Village. These programs address addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders, offering personalized support for veterans and first responders. Consult with a Veteran Advocate today to commence your journey towards holistic healing and restoration.

View Sources

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U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans.” March 30, 2023. Accessed November 21, 2023. 

Menon, Jayakrishnan; Kandasamy, Arun. “Relapse prevention.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, February 2018. Accessed November 22, 2023. 

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Coping with Traumatic Stress Reactions.” March 30, 2023. Accessed November 22, 2023. 

Giannitrapani, Karleen, et al. “Veteran Experiences Seeking Non-pharmacologic Approaches for Pain.” Military Medicine, 2018. Accessed November 22, 2023. 

Melemis, Steven. “Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, September 2015. Accessed November 22, 2023.  

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Coping With Unwanted Thoughts: RESET for Active-duty Soldiers.” June 7, 2023. Accessed November 22, 2023. 

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “VA Mobile Apps.” August 25, 2022. Accessed November 22, 2023. 

National Center for PTSD. “PTSD Coach Online.” Accessed November 22, 2023. 

VetChange. “Take Control of Your Drinking.” Accessed November 22, 2023. 

National Center for PTSD. “Insomnia Coach.” June 11, 2020. Accessed February 21, 2024.