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Harnessing Military Resilience: Navigating Recovery from Addiction 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 561-340-7269 now.

Addiction is a common struggle among veterans. According to national data, approximately 8.4% of U.S. veterans aged 18 and older face 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 prevalence of substance misuse among veterans, seeking help for addiction can feel like a daunting task. If you’re in search of resources for veteran addiction, remember that you’re not alone, and effective treatment options are readily available.

The Silent Battle: Overcoming Stigma in the Military

Regrettably, stigma can be a formidable obstacle preventing veterans from seeking addiction treatment. Within military culture, reaching out for help with mental health or addiction issues can be seen as a sign of weakness. Recent research has highlighted that veterans with PTSD often perceive treatment-seeking through a stigmatized lens, which can lead them to turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism, subsequently heightening the risk of alcohol-related problems.

This stigma may compel veterans to fight the battle against addiction alone, potentially exacerbating both mental health and addiction challenges over time.

Embracing Reality and Acknowledging the Challenge

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 reality, an act of courage and strength. Addiction is a significant health issue, just like  any other medical condition, and acknowledging the problem marks the initial stride 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. Quality treatment options are available to guide you toward recovery.

What Strength Means: A New 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 how you view strength.

Connecting With Your Inner Warrior

Overcoming addiction requires tremendous strength, and your experiences in the service have likely cultivated 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.

Asking for Help Takes Courage

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

Taking 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: beginning 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 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 hinder treatment-seeking, but most veterans report they would not judge a fellow veteran for seeking help.

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

Professional Treatment Can Help

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, seeking treatment is an admirable choice.

At The Recovery Village, we’ve tailored our addiction treatment services to meet the unique needs of veterans and first responders. Our staff are trained in trauma-informed modalities, including EMDR. 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.