Veteran Heroin Addiction Treatment & Rehab Options

Heroin Addiction in Veterans and the Available Treatment Options

Many men and women in the U.S. set out to give their best in serving the nation in the military. These people face several risks in their line of duty, so they deserve the best when they return to the civilian world. Unfortunately, one major risk many veterans don’t consider is that they may end up struggling with heroin addiction. Notably, heroin use among veterans has risen in the past few years. According to a survey by NSDUH, approximately 57,000 veterans were heroin users in 2019.

Some veterans turn to heroin use for relief from physical and mental pain. The damaging effect of substance use can also impact their loved ones and close friends. The user may become destructive to themselves and those close to them, and it can even worsen over time if they don’t seek treatment. If you have a loved one who is a veteran struggling with heroin addiction, consider involving family members who you think will be helpful. You should also get help from an addiction center that offers veteran care.

If you are struggling with addiction, don’t suffer in silence. Seeking assistance right away will help you get back on track and enable you to avoid the severe effects of long-term addiction. Below are more details about the risk factors, signs, and symptoms of heroin use and the available treatment options for veterans.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a synthetic and highly addictive opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance that originates from seed pods of opium poppy plants. This drug can be a black and sticky substance or brown or a white powder in color. However, the color and consistency of heroin sold on the street can vary depending on the additives and preparation method. People use heroin by smoking, sniffing, injecting, or snorting it. Once this drug enters the body, it bonds with opioid receptors, making the user feel euphoric.

Veterans and Heroin Abuse

Veterans may receive opioids as a prescription for pain relief. However, this only works when the prescription opioids are taken as directed by a medical professional. When people misuse these prescriptions, the highly addictive nature of these drugs can lead to addiction. In fact, about 80% of heroin users started by misusing prescription medication, leading to a crisis in the U.S.

Causes of Heroin Use in Veterans

Below are a few factors that make veterans more susceptible to heroin use.

Chronic Pain

The nature of military service increases the chances of getting severe injuries and may result in doctors prescribing veterans opioids as part of a pain management plan. Anyone who takes opioids is at risk of developing an addiction. If a veteran becomes addicted to their prescribed medication, or it does not offer enough pain relief, they may turn to heroin. To address this problem, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched several programs to lower the use of prescription opioids by veterans. The VA advocates for alternative therapies and treatment options to treat chronic pain.

Exposure to Trauma

Many veterans have a history of combat exposure during military service in various deployments. This may lead to mental health issues and the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to injuries, violence, or witnessing death. People with PTSD may resort to heroin to help deal with nightmares, sleeping problems, intrusive thoughts, and other symptoms.

Realignment to Civilian Life

Veterans may struggle to return to civilian life after their experiences in active military duty. The lack of structure in their lives may seem chaotic compared to what they were used to in the military. Veterans may also find it challenging to find employment or to fit in with old friends and family. After leaving the military, some start using heroin to cope with anxiety and feelings of not being successful in their new civilian life.

Mental Health Disorder

Veterans may suffer from mental health disorders like PTSD, anxiety, or depression. Instead of seeking professional help, veterans may opt for self-medication. Heroin is one of the substances that some veterans use to cope with emotional distress. They may use heroin to reach a state of euphoria to escape negative feelings.

Risk Factors of Heroin Addiction in Veterans

Research from the National Institute of Drug Abuse shows that veterans and those on active duty are more likely to develop a substance use disorder. Several risk factors contributing to the likelihood of heroin addiction for veterans are listed below:

  • Unemployment or poverty
  • Drug addiction within the family
  • Misusing prescription opioids such as oxycodone or morphine
  • Mental health issues
  • Experimenting with drug use

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction in Veterans

If your loved one is a veteran suffering from heroin addiction, it may be difficult to tell if they are struggling with substance use disorder. If you have noticed unusual behavior, you may assume that it is a result of transitioning to civilian life or other factors. On the other hand, you may find it challenging to tell if a veteran has become addicted to heroin because some people can act normally even while using the drug. Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction can differ depending on several factors, including the frequency and amount of heroin use. Here are some common signs of heroin addiction that you can look for:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Severe itching
  • Infections or abscesses at injection points
  • Constricted pupils
  • Visible track marks on the arms
  • Insomnia
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Using more heroin, claiming its needed for pain relief
  • Aggressive behaviors when they fail to use the substance
  • Pulling away from activities they used to enjoy

Changes in personal hygiene, emotional health, and personality should also raise red flags that your loved one may be addicted to heroin. In addition, paraphernalia, such as small plastic bags and needles not meant for medical use, may indicate that your loved one is using heroin.

Note that prolonged use of heroin can lead to severe long-term consequences, including:

  • Pneumonia
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Damaged nose tissue or collapsed veins
  • Infection of the heart valves
  • Stomach abscesses

Impacts of Heroin Withdrawal on Veterans

Veterans addicted to heroin use become physically and psychologically dependent on this substance. Attempting to stop using heroin without seeking help from a medical expert will result in unpleasant symptoms that may even lead to serious medical complications. Withdrawal can result in the following effects:

  • High craving for heroin
  • Severe muscle aches
  • Cold sweats
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose
  • Severe abdominal cramps
  • Paranoia
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Extreme pain in bones and muscles

Treatment Options for Veterans Addicted to Heroin

Treatment for veterans addicted to heroin is available in many rehab centers. These facilities have treatment plans to address veterans’ unique challenges when dealing with a substance use disorder. These programs provide comprehensive professional care and cater to their specific needs to help them on the path to recovery. Below are some of the most effective treatment options for veterans struggling with heroin addiction.

Medical Detox

Veterans who use heroin consistently for long periods become dependent on it. If they suddenly stop using the substance, they will experience severe withdrawal symptoms. To mitigate these unpleasant symptoms and associated health risks, veterans should undergo detox under medical supervision. Detox is the first step on the road to recovery.

In detox, a dedicated team of addiction experts and medical personnel monitors your status in a detox support program for five to seven days. This team is available 24/7 and works on reducing your cravings for the substance and creates a withdrawal management plan. Your comfort and safety are the team’s priority. Medical experts can recommend some medications to prevent cravings and relapse, such as buprenorphine and methadone. By providing a calm and sober environment with medical care, professionals can help you detox from heroin in a way that won’t be overly stressful or dangerous. When the timing is right, the team in the rehab center supports you as you take the next step in a recovery plan.

Inpatient Treatment

A treatment option away from home offers veterans a great solution for recovering from heroin addiction. Inpatient treatment provides the most structured care level for clients struggling with substance use disorder. Since clients live in these facilities, they receive round-the-clock care. Support groups, educational opportunities, and therapeutic activities aid the recovery process. The support groups help you connect with other former servicemen and servicewomen who can share their experiences. Those around you understand and relate to what you are going through, so you’ll start a healthy recovery in a judgment-free space. The combination of support groups with education and therapy makes inpatient programs highly effective for clients with heroin addiction.

Clients who go through inpatient treatment learn to develop coping skills to live in the civilian world. Clients learn the best ways to communicate with others, cope with previous traumatic experiences, and process emotions. Another advantage is that you can focus solely on recovery because you are in a sober, safe, and peaceful environment.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is an ideal option for clients who have completed an inpatient program. It can also be effective for those starting treatment with less severe heroin addiction. In the outpatient program, clients attend treatment less frequently than inpatient care. Clients can live at home and visit the treatment facilities for a few hours daily.

Outpatient programs assist veterans in regaining their physical and mental health and also focus on the recovery journey. They aim to help clients reconnect with their loved ones, get involved in community activities, and resume normal work activities. Clients can use what they learned in the inpatient programs to be successful in real-world settings. This program also emphasizes relapse prevention, dealing with the long-term effects of heroin addiction, and maintaining sobriety. Relapse prevention emphasizes working on the impacts of trauma, enhancing self-esteem, and repairing broken relationships.


Treatment for heroin addiction doesn’t end after undergoing medical detox. Aftercare is vital for clients recovering from substance abuse after achieving initial sobriety. Although treatment programs are effective in dealing with addiction, it can be difficult for some clients to deal with the stressors of their day-to-day life. These ongoing or follow-up programs help veterans maintain a drug-free lifestyle and prevent relapse. Aftercare also helps to build the foundation for a support network.

Why Veterans Need an Addiction Treatment Program

If you have a family member struggling with heroin addiction, it’s vital to offer support and let them understand they aren’t alone. Offer them a listening ear without being judgmental. This way, you can create an opportunity to encourage them to seek treatment without being overly pushy. Keep in mind that veterans worry about social stigma, so they may find it difficult to face their struggles with heroin addiction. Also, many veterans feel like admitting they have substance use disorder issues is a sign of weakness. Helping them address these concerns will make them feel more comfortable seeking professional assistance. Being compassionate and letting them know you will be at their side will make it easier to help them select a rehab center when the time comes.

Get Heroin Addiction Treatment

Heroin addiction can have devastating effects on a veteran’s health, both physically and mentally. However, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to recover from this situation. With proper care and guidance from the professionals at a rehab center, you will learn the best ways to manage addiction and gain control of your life. has several rehab centers across the United States. We recruit professionals who are passionate about helping you live a healthier and more meaningful life. Our staff will guide you through each phase of your recovery process. Contact us today to learn more about us and how we can help you start your journey to wellness.