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Empowering Veterans: Strategies to Navigate Triggers and Sustain Recovery

& Medically Reviewed by Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

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Last Updated - 03/02/2024

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Updated 03/02/2024

Healing from addiction requires acquiring strategies to handle triggers and prevent relapse. In the recovery phase, triggers are inevitable, but veterans encounter unique  challenges due to their service history. Luckily, there are efficient approaches for addressing these unique veteran triggers, assisting in upholding a commitment to recovery.

Understanding Veterans’ Battle with Addiction

Recovery from addiction is a journey filled with obstacles, especially for veterans whose experiences in the military shape their struggles. While approximately 11% of veterans seeking care from the VA experience substance use disorders, this number likely underestimates the true scope of addiction among veterans.

Among male veterans, the prevalence of alcohol use disorder stands at 10.5%, while drug use disorder affects 4.8%. For female veterans, these rates slightly decrease to 4.8% and 2.4%, respectively.

The unique stressors faced during military service, such as combat exposure and traumatic deployments, can pave the way for addiction among veterans. Drugs and alcohol often become coping mechanisms to alleviate the physical and emotional toll endured during service.

Unique Triggers: PTSD and Mental Health Struggles

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

PTSD symptoms, including intrusive memories and sleep disturbances, can trigger the desire to seek relief in substances. However, reliance on drugs or alcohol tends to worsen underlying mental health conditions over time, exacerbating issues such as depression.

Pain-Related Triggers: Addressing Service-Connected Injuries

Service-related injuries, often treated with opioid pain medications, present another significant trigger for addiction among veterans. Research highlights the prevalent prescription of opioids to veterans for managing chronic pain, particularly among those contending with co-occurring mental health conditions.

Veterans coping with injuries and chronic pain may turn to substances as a means of coping. However, the risk of addiction escalates, especially for individuals concurrently diagnosed with PTSD or other mental health disorders.

Common Triggers: Shared Challenges in Recovery

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

Strategies for Coping with Veteran-Specific Triggers

Mitigating PTSD-related triggers necessitates tailored approaches, including:

  • Seeking support from trusted confidants and family members
  • Engaging in pleasurable hobbies and activities to uplift spirits
  • Embracing relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga
  • Immersing oneself in 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
  • Harnessing 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 central 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, such as nutrition, exercise, and restorative sleep
  • Avoiding triggers associated with addiction by exercising vigilance in identifying and avoiding risky situations
  • Employing stress management techniques to navigate life’s challenges without resorting to substance use

Tools for Managing Triggers

An array of resources stands ready 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, furnishing personalized support for veterans and first responders. Communicate with a Veteran Advocate today to start your journey towards holistic healing and restoration.

View Sources

Teeters, Jenni, et al. “Substance use disorders in military veterans: prevalence and treatment challenges.” Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 2017. Accessed November 21, 2023. 

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.