Life after the military isn’t an easy shift for many veterans. Many veterans struggle with re-integrating into society, and may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with this challenging transition. Substance abuse in families can lead to serious problems, including divorce or violence within the home.
Veterans who suffer from PTSD, depression, addiction, or other mental illnesses are at increased risk for substance abuse. Supporting a veteran through any of those challenges can be very difficult. Still, it’s important to recognize when they’re struggling and how it affects family dynamics, as well as to learn how to support and when to seek professional help for veterans.
Why Veterans Turn To Drugs And Alcohol
Military personnel and veterans may use drugs or alcohol to cope with insomnia, anxiety, or depression, and to forget about the trauma they experienced during their military service. They may also take prescription medications to numb their physical pain from injuries suffered during combat. An increased risk of addiction is common for veterans who experienced physical or sexual trauma during their tours of duty.
Alcohol is the primary substance abused by veterans. It’s also very easy to get their hands on it, given that many people use alcohol as a way to socialize with other veterans or to let loose after a difficult day. Although some vets often use prescription painkillers to cope with physical pain related to combat injuries, they can also become a problem if the user is trying to cope with other mental health issues, such as PTSD or depression. Prescription drug overdoses are among the most common causes of death among veterans. Substance abuse can also result in lost jobs, court-ordered rehab, legal problems, and family issues.
How To Recognize The Signs of Addiction
There are several behaviors you can watch out for to determine whether your loved one is struggling with addiction. These include:
- Sudden Changes In Mood Or Behavior
If your loved one suddenly becomes hostile or isolated, that may signify that they’re experiencing addiction-related issues. You might also notice unexpected mood swings or changes in their personality.
- Physical And Emotional Changes
Your loved one may show physical signs of substance abuse, including changes in weight, skin tone, and general appearance. They may also experience unexplained aches and pains, and complain of insomnia or other sleep problems. If you notice your veteran’s overly emotional or sensitive, it might be an effect of them using drugs to self-medicate their mental health conditions.
- Changes In Friendships And Relationships
If your loved one suddenly becomes more secretive or withdrawn following a series of arguments, that may be a sign they’re using drugs or alcohol. You might also see them spending more time with certain friends or avoiding others entirely. You might notice your veteran is suddenly talking about a new group of ‘friends,’ which may indicate some problems.
- Increase Or Decrease In Energy Level
Substance abuse can affect the body’s ability to produce energy, which may leave your loved one feeling lethargic or overly energetic. You might notice a sudden change in your veteran’s exercise habits as well. If they typically enjoy running and lifting weights, but stop exercising entirely, that could signify that something’s wrong.
- Sales Of Personal Possessions
If you notice that your veteran is suddenly selling many of their possessions, it may be a sign that they’re struggling with some form of substance abuse. If their behavior starts to become out of the ordinary, you might want to investigate further before making assumptions about what’s going on.
How It Affects Veterans’ Families
If a veteran struggles with substance abuse, it can affect them and their family in many different ways.
- Financial problems
Substance abuse is costly, leading to financial problems for the entire family. The substance abuser might not bring in as much money if struggling with addiction. It leads to the household having less income. If you have a shared bank account, it’s necessary to keep track of what’s going on so you don’t become overdrawn.
- Higher rates of divorce and broken relationships
Substance abuse can be highly destructive to family relationships. It’s common for veterans struggling with addiction to withdraw from their marriage or significant other, make sudden changes in mood or behavior, and become argumentative. It can strain relationships significantly, eventually leading to divorce or separation.
- Emotional trauma
When substance abuse interferes with the family dynamics, children are more likely to experience emotional trauma. It could be because they know their parents struggle, perhaps, even during periods of active addiction when the veteran may not control their behavior. Children may also experience emotional trauma when the damage addiction causes lead to divorce, death, or other significant changes in family structure.
- Health problems
Substance abuse is very harmful to the human body, and it can lead to health problems. Common health conditions associated with addiction include malnutrition, hepatitis C, chronic pain, and liver cirrhosis. The substance abuser might not be able to take care of themselves properly due to a lack of energy or motivation brought on by the disease, which may lead to family members taking on more responsibility.
- Social issues
Veterans who can’t stop using drugs or alcohol during a PTSD or traumatic brain injury (TBI) relapse may not function well in social situations. It can lead to isolation and eventually affect their ability to maintain employment or keep friends. If veterans can’t control themselves during a PTSD or TBI relapse, they may also struggle with aggression and violence.
How Family Members Can Help
As a family of a veteran struggling with addiction, you must take steps to protect yourself and your loved one.
- Be Proactive
Addiction may cause your veteran to neglect their hygiene, which can upset family members. If you notice sudden changes, check with them to see how they’re doing. Addiction affects the entire body—not just the abuser—and family members may feel powerless or helpless. If you allow your loved ones to make excuses for their actions, they might never seek drug rehab.
- Set Policies And Boundaries
If your veteran is struggling with addiction, it’s crucial that you set some ground rules and stick to them strictly. Keep all alcohol or prescription drugs away from them to reduce or eliminate their access to alcohol. You might also want to set a specific time for them to return home at night if they struggle with addiction and the temptation of alcohol abuse.
- Reduce Household Stressors
For veterans struggling with addiction, you must do what you can to minimize stressors in the household. Make sure your veteran gets a good night’s sleep, which could be disrupted by children or other issues at home. Fun activities, like hiking or cooking, can help take their mind off of addiction, at least for a little while.
If your loved one is serious about quitting substance abuse, they’ll need to make sacrifices to stop using drugs or alcohol successfully. Remove all triggers from the home that could tempt them into relapsing. Let them know you’re fully supportive of their decision to quit and will do everything you can to help them through the process.
- Support Treatment
Your loved one might have great difficulty admitting they have a problem with substance abuse. If you can, help guide your veteran towards inpatient or outpatient rehab programs by encouraging them to try treatment again. Substance abusers often need multiple attempts at rehabilitation before they can successfully stop using drugs or alcohol.
Support groups are a necessary part of their recovery for veterans who struggle with substance abuse. Encourage your veteran to attend meetings, and try to attend with them. It can be an excellent way for your veteran to meet others with similar experiences and build a new support group outside of the home environment.
- Educate Yourself
Educating yourself about addiction and substance abuse is necessary to help someone struggling with these conditions. You’ll be able to offer your loved one better support and guidance if you understand what they’re going through. Some ways you can educate yourself include attending support groups, reading books on addiction, and talking with your loved one’s therapist or doctor.
- Be Patient
At times, it can be difficult to stay patient and positive when your loved one is struggling with addiction. However, this is very important if you want them to succeed in their recovery efforts. Substance abusers often relapse several times before they finally become sober for good
- Tell Them You’re There For Them
Lastly, your family member might feel embarrassed or ashamed about their addiction to drugs or alcohol. You must let them know you’re there to support them, even if they make mistakes along the way.
Your role as a family is significant in helping your veteran loved ones recover from addiction. If you tell them that you’re there for them no matter what, it’ll help reinforce the fact that they have support throughout the rehabilitation process.
The best you can do as a family member is show your loved one that you care and believe in them as they try to quit substance abuse. Thankfully, many support groups and treatment options are available to help your loved one through the rehabilitation process.