Military life creates unique challenges for veterans and their families. Unfortunately, many military members struggle to leave the trauma of active duty behind. It’s common for them to struggle with substance use or mental health disorders.
Warning Signs of Veteran Substance Use
Preventing substance use among veterans begins with early intervention and not disregarding the problem when the red flags start to show.
Common red flags to look for may include some of the following:
Veterans often use alcohol or drugs to cope with their emotions. This may include a drastic change in their personality. This can be particularly true if they have suffered physical injury, struggle with chronic pain, or deal with emotional problems. When you notice personality changes, it’s essential to take steps to understand why it is happening.
An Inability to Connect
It’s common for veterans to become emotionally distant. They may have trouble reconnecting with their spouse, children, friends, or family. When anyone close to them notices this, it’s crucial to intervene and seek counseling. Drug and alcohol use may occur as a way of coping with becoming emotionally distant.
Transitioning back to civilian life is not easy. Veterans struggling with emotional or physical health problems will find it challenging to find employment. If there is already an underlying substance use problem, they will experience financial trouble. Many veterans struggle to access the benefits they need and will turn to drugs or alcohol to manage physical and emotional pain.
Preventing Substance Use Among Veterans
Screening and brief intervention are effective. Routine screening for problem drinking and drug use is an effective strategy for decreasing substance misuse among veterans. Health professionals have access to countless screening methods.
Substance use and mental health treatment should be integrated into primary care, whether through the VA or the private sector, where addiction is treated.
Veterans should also have access to resources to help them strengthen their coping skills. This can ultimately help increase psychological strength and positive performance. It also reduces the incidences of maladaptive responses.
Overall, it should be about helping veterans overcome the risk factors related to their military service. This can be an essential step in ensuring they live happy and successful lives.
How Families Can Speak to Their Loved Ones
Learn the facts about drugs and alcohol. It’s a good idea to be a reliable source of factual information. It also helps when understanding what a person is experiencing.
Choose a good time and place. While it is ok to express concern about their drug or alcohol use, you would want to avoid the conversation when they are under the influence of these substances.
Be patient, and show compassion and concern. Tell them you are worried and care about their well-being. Express concern about how the drugs have impacted their life.
Avoid lecturing and casting judgment. The goal is to have two-way communication. Listen to what they are saying.
Help them find treatment and offer support.
Additional Veteran Resources
An article from SAMHSA on resources for service members.
Information about U.S. Military Veterans from the National Institutes of Health
An article from The Washington Post on tips for veterans.