Five Pointers for Veterans Trying to Recover from Addiction

Submitted to The Washington Post as a Special by Kerry and Dustin Brockberg

Addiction and other physical and mental health issues are common among veterans. Veterans frequently find it difficult to ask for assistance, yet many do. They attend group or individual therapy sessions, partake in 12-step programmes, take medications, and interact with veteran-specific support organisations. Then, recovery becomes their new normal.

We believe that a better understanding of addiction will pave the way to recovery as psychologists who work with veterans. Veterans, like many others, frequently turn to drugs and alcohol for a variety of reasons, including coping, numbing, celebrating, or “healing” wounds. Use, abuse, and misuse of substances can fluctuate.

Addiction frequently develops when a person is unable to stop taking drugs or when drug usage results in functional impairment (an inability to complete daily tasks). According to a 2017 study, 11 percent of the veterans who first sought assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs satisfied the requirements for a substance use disorder, which include impaired control and dangerous use.

As a disorder that affects both the body and the psyche, addiction is now better understood and treated by experts in both medicine and psychiatry. Some brain regions may become dysfunctional as a result of addiction. Additionally, some people might be genetically predisposed to it.

Some veterans who battle addiction may also struggle with anxiety, mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder, trauma-related diseases like PTSD, issues with self-harm or suicidality, and other mental health issues. Some people only experience the symptoms of these issues when consuming drugs or alcohol. Only when drinking heavily can a veteran experience sadness or reflect on unpleasant memories. Other people may experience symptoms when they are sober. When there are lots of people around, a veteran may become anxious and turn to drugs or alcohol to help them feel better.

The better informed veterans are about co-occurring disorders, as well as when and how symptoms manifest, the more probable it is that they will discover a method for successfully managing addiction. A person’s experience of recovery can be physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, or cultural. Here are five approaches to strengthen and work inside and toward the recovery process because we want to celebrate and promote continued recovery.

Mind your own well-being

We frequently tell ourselves things about ourselves that we would never tell others, like, “I’m an idiot, why did I relapse.” as well as “You’ll never be able to do this.” Think about how these claims support healing. Not at all. When we respect, love, and take care of ourselves, we will experience better results in our continuous recovery. We must also accept ourselves as we are. It increases a sense or feeling of safety and security and aids in lowering feelings of self-judgment or shame.

Accept the new “normal”

How should we define “normal”? We are likely attempting to recreate a specific emotion, memory, or thinking when we have an idea of how our experience should be. Someone you know might often dwell on the past and remark, “I wish everything was as it was before all this.” Maybe you are that person. It is normal to wish to relive an enjoyable experience or recollection. But how much effort are you making to change the past, which is already the past?

In particular during your recovery journey, create a new normal that represents and embraces who you are right now. What would your new normal look and feel like if it were depicted in a picture? Be sensible. Your newly adjusted self may take into account both your current suffering and all the wonderful things in your life. Recognize the resources, connections, and mentalities that have merged into your new normal.

Drop the stigma

Many veterans are concerned that having drug abuse issues or mental health problems proves they are awful people or that they have done something wrong. They worry about what other people would think of them because they are aware that those with such issues still face stigma. However, imagine it going the opposite way. What happens when we request assistance or express our feelings? What happens when someone supports us, listens to us, and acknowledges our suffering? Does that reputation persist? It does if we let it, is the straightforward reply.

Many people in the addiction treatment community feel an immense sense of relief the instant they understand they have no control over their preferred drug. Speaking the truth and accepting there is an issue has power. Admitting we were incorrect or made a mistake has strength. It has power to beg for assistance. We can take action to address a problem after we recognise and acknowledge that it exists.


Have faith that people will listen to you. It matters what you have to say. A new kind of future is likewise being unlocked when you open your mouth. When you openly discuss your recovery with others, you give yourself the chance to gain insight from their perspective and experience. This kind of sharing might make you feel more connected and respected. Since you are no longer carrying your addiction load alone, it may feel lighter and easier to bear.

Make use of your experience to assist others.

A fantastic quality of the veteran community is its readiness to lend encouragement and support to other veterans who are struggling with their recovery. As a veteran, your voice matters. We urge you to join the mission of making sharing stories and finding solace a regular part of life, helping veterans put an end to the silent pain of addiction. You can get started by investigating and discussing your personal tale with someone else.

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s adjunct faculty member and psychologist is Dustin Brockberg, PhD. From 2004 until 2008, he was a member of the American Army and deployed to Iraq. A psychologist with the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute is Kerry Brockberg, PhD. (Allina Health). “End Your Covert Mission: A Veteran’s Guide to Fighting Pain and Addiction” was written by the Brockbergs.

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