Overcoming Triggers: A Veteran’s Guide to Sustained Recovery

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Last Updated - 03/02/2024

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Updated 03/02/2024

The road to recovery from addiction is about mastering the art of coping with triggers to avoid a relapse. While triggers are a common occurrence for anyone in recovery, veterans have to navigate through unique challenges related to their period of service. There are, thankfully, targeted approaches designed to tackle these specific triggers for veterans, helping to ensure commitment to their recovery journey.

Understanding Veterans’ Struggles with Addiction

Transitioning from military to civilian life poses unique challenges, including the battle against addiction. Studies suggest that approximately 11% of veterans seeking assistance from the VA grapple with substance use disorders, though the actual prevalence may be higher.

Among male veterans, alcohol use disorder affects 10.5%, while drug use disorder impacts 4.8%. Female veterans report slightly lower rates, with alcohol use disorder at 4.8% and drug use disorder at 2.4%.

Military service stressors, such as combat exposure and trauma, often pave the path to addiction. Drugs and alcohol can become coping mechanisms to numb the physical and emotional scars from time in the service.

Navigating Unique Triggers: PTSD and Mental Health Challenges

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

Symptoms associated with PTSD, such as intrusive memories and sleep disturbances, can act as catalysts for substance use as a coping mechanism. However, relying on substances tends to worsen underlying mental health conditions over time, intensifying issues like depression.

Addressing Pain-Related Triggers: Managing Service-Connected Injuries

Service-related injuries, often treated with opioid pain medications, pose another significant trigger for addiction among veterans. Studies show the prevalent prescription of opioids to veterans for managing chronic pain, especially among those with co-occurring mental health conditions.

Veterans coping with injuries and chronic pain may resort to substance use as a coping mechanism. However, the risk of addiction escalates, particularly for individuals concurrently diagnosed with PTSD or other mental health disorders.

Tackling Common Triggers: Shared Obstacles in Recovery

In addition to unique triggers, veterans face 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 requires 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 time spent outdoors

Navigating Pain-Related Triggers

Veterans experiencing 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 improve 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 promoting 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 relying on substance use to cope

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 promoting 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, providing personalized support for veterans and first responders. Connect 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.


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