When a loved one serves in the military and returns stateside with a substance use disorder or a mental health disorder, it can be a life-changing experience for the veteran and the veteran’s family.

Military service people and veterans encounter many challenges while serving their country and when they return home. While serving, they can become ill or injured in combat and encounter high levels of stress. Because of their injuries, they could deal with chronic pain or become permanently disabled due to the loss of an eye or limb.

For many, the stress does not always fade when they return on U.S. soil. When they are back, they likely will need time to reconnect with family and friends, adjust to civilian life, and start a new career or pursue education at a higher learning institution. They also might be looking for a new place to live and establishing their lives in a new city or a new neighborhood.

Veterans who are struggling with addiction or a dependence on alcohol or drugs might find any of these changes harder to manage when they are also battling a substance use disorder (SUD) or mental health disorder. There are veterans who are living daily with both, and this presents other challenges that prompt many families to want to step in and help.

Veterans and PTSD, Other Mental Health Disorders

There are many reasons why veterans develop substance use disorders. Many veterans end their service with memories of traumatic events that adversely affect their mental health. They experience anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other disorders that can make daily living difficult. Substances often are used as an escape from these problems.

Some veterans drink, use legal and illegal drugs, or both to self-medicate against these disorders. Other veterans may develop a dependence on prescription pain medications that could also lead to addiction. Unfortunately, self-medicating can only worsen the mental health disorder and make the person more dependent on harmful addictive substances.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 2 of 10 veterans with PTSD have a substance use disorder, and nearly 1 of every 3 veterans seeking substance use disorder treatment has PTSD.

The VA also reports that binge drinking is common among veterans with PTSD who drink alcohol, and smoking occurs at higher rates among veterans with PTSD than those who have not been diagnosed with PTSD.

Sometimes it is not easy to tell if someone has an addiction, but there are signs you can watch for in your loved one. Some are:

  • Appearance changes (weight loss, weight gain, red or bloodshot eyes; poor grooming)
  • Behavioral changes (noticeable changes in one’s emotional state; could be sadness, irritability, sudden outbursts of anger; sudden energy boost after a period of lethargy)
  • Relationship changes (increased isolation from others or appearing withdrawn; less time is spent with family, and the person’s friend circle could change)

If a person continues to use despite adverse effects on their health and lives, craves addictive substances regularly, and cannot bring themselves to stop using despite past attempts, these are all signs of a substance use disorder.

Getting Help For Veteran Loved One Struggling With SUD

If you have a loved one who is a veteran who is battling addiction or problematic substance use, you might be wondering how you can help them overcome their struggles and get help.

First, it is important that your loved one gets help right away. Addiction usually worsens if left untreated, and not treating a substance problem and a mental health disorder together at the same time increases the chances that the person will see a continued decline in their physical and mental health.

Finding a recovery program that treats both disorders is ideal. Having both an SUD and a mental illness at the same time is called a dual diagnosis. Another reason to get help right away is that suicide risks are high among veterans. A 2020 study published by the JAMA Network Open found that suicide risks are higher among military veterans who recently transitioned out of the military.

VA Offers Services to Veterans

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers treatment services for veterans that can be customized to an individual’s needs. These include medical detox, medication-assisted treatment, and nicotine replacement therapy. The VA also offers various counseling and therapy options, from outpatient treatment and marriage counseling to continuing care and relapse prevention.

To receive services, you must first apply for VA health care. Several self-help resources are also offered to address substance use disorders, depression and anxiety, and PTSD.

If your relative does not have VA benefits, there are still options to explore. According to the VA’s site, veterans who have served in a combat zone might be eligible to receive free private counseling, assessment for alcohol and drug use, and other support at Vet Centers across the U.S. Click here to get started.

Homelessness among veterans is common. If your loved one is at the risk of becoming homeless, the VA offers resources for that, too.

If your veteran family member has a disability, there are programs and resources to help. The U.S. government offers veterans disability benefits, and the National Rehabilitation Information Center offers a roundup of resources that you might find helpful.

Finding Help at a Private Rehab Facility

If you do not wish to seek help from the VA, you can find help at a private facility that addresses mental health issues and substance abuse disorders. It is important that the facility your loved one attends uses evidence-based treatments that are backed by science.

Addiction treatment is unique as no two people are the same. When your loved one enters a rehabilitation program, they will be given an assessment to see where they are and treat them based on the information gathered. If dual diagnosis is present, the treatment programs recommended will address both disorders.

keep patients safe as they withdraw from a substance.

During this process, which is several days long, medical professionals and addiction care specialists monitor patients’ vitals and help them as the drugs exit their bodies. They may give patients medications to assist with the removal of the drug. Medical detox also helps patients avoid relapse, which commonly happens when people who want to end their substance use but fall short because of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

After this process ends and the patient regains stability, a treatment program will be recommended for them, and that recommendation depends on their situation. A person could start in a residential program that requires an extended stay in a facility as they address their condition with therapies in a structured, monitored environment, or they could start an outpatient program, which still offers therapies but does not require an on-site stay at a facility.

You can read more here about the placement criteria used in addiction treatment as well as the continuum of care, as explained by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). The Palm Beach Institute offers the full continuum of care here from medical detox to aftercare programs. Call today to discuss your loved one’s situation so we can help you.

The family of an addicted veteran can also help their family member find the facility and program that will best fit their needs. Families are encouraged to be as involved as possible in helping their loved one overcome addiction.

Tips to Support a Family Member Going Through an Addiction

There are no shortcuts to working through an addiction to regain sobriety full time. Families of addicted veterans can be supportive in various ways, including:

Going to Family Therapy

Family therapy can be part of a recovering person’s treatment program. Generally, family members could be introduced into the process of their loved one’s treatment program after their loved one has been in addiction treatment for a while. The relative undergoing treatment usually must show progress in their program before the family is introduced into the routine. This progress could take a few weeks to a few months, depending on the person.

Family therapy serves many purposes. It helps families face the toll that addiction has had on everyone affected by the actions of their addicted loved one, and it helps the person in recovery address issues that might have come from family conflicts or family dynamics.

Also, the family can offer the support a person in active addiction needs to find the motivation to become sober full time. Family therapy sessions also teach people how to talk to one another and find new ways to communicate and relate. They also teach family members how to set healthy boundaries and much more.

The Palm Beach Institute offers addiction recovery for the family. Call us today to learn how we can support your family member who is a veteran struggling with substance use and your family in general.

Learning About Addiction

We also encourage everyone to learn about addiction. It is a chronic disease of the brain that can alter how the brain works, which is permanently in many cases. Despite the health information available, substance use disorders remain largely misunderstood by the general public.

Taking some time to learn about addiction, how and why it develops, and how it is treated can help families understand what their addicted veteran loved one is going through as they face this challenging time. Understanding addiction as a health issue may give you insight into how you can be supportive of your loved one and find support for yourself.

Finding Support For Your Family

Addiction affects everyone in a family to some degree. Everyone needs time to heal from the destruction that addiction can cause. There are support groups that support families of people with substance use disorders.

Meeting up with like-minded people can help you discover more about yourself and help others and learn about resources that can help you go the distance with your loved one as they work through their addiction. Supportive networks can give you a place where you can be heard and you can hear others, as well. You can find more information on support groups here.

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