Veterans Struggling After Military Service

Challenges That Veterans Face When Returning to Civilian Life

The transition from service member to civilian is difficult. There are more than a few reasons why this fact remains true for so many former service members, such as gaining new employment, financial challenges, and worries about experiencing homelessness. Often, the challenges can become too much, and the stigma of asking for help can keep many who are hurting from seeking proper mental health care. Without treatment, veterans may turn to drugs, alcohol, and even suicide.

Possible Difficulties

People think of veterans as heroes who have great work experience that makes obtaining another job simple. They are seen as strong-willed go-getters. While this may ring true, a veteran returning to civilian life can still face challenges such as:

  • Injury resulting from time in the military
  • Difficulty reconnecting with family members and re-establishing a meaningful role in family life
  • Joining or creating a social community
  • Returning to a job or entering the workforce
  • Resuming responsibility for essentials like food and housing that were previously provided by the military
  • Lack of adequate savings

These can all lead to a less-than-desirable lifestyle. While facing these problems, a veteran might begin to have mental health issues and be unsure how to tackle them.

What Constitutes a Need for Help?

The difficulties faced by veterans take a serious toll on their mental health. A study published by the National Library of Medicine found that 41% of veterans have a mental health need. Some of the mental health struggles faced can be attributed to the problems faced above. But some are unique to the traumatic experiences that they faced when deployed. This can include:

  • The stress of combat
  • The death of a fellow service member
  • Taking part in a difficult situation in the line of duty
  • Serving during and/or after a nationwide traumatic event, such as 9/11
  • Sexual assault or sexual harassment while in the military

Events like these contribute to the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans. The National Center for PTSD published various points of reference for others to gain an idea of just how many veterans struggle with PTSD. Gauging the numbers by service era, it was found that anywhere between 11 to 15 out of every 100 service members suffer from PTSD. They also make mention how MST, or military sexual trauma, can lead to PTSD. Some striking facts about MST are that 23% of women reported sexual assault when in the military. Similarly, 55% of women and 38% of men have experienced sexual harassment while serving in the military.

When faced with any of the above problems, it is easy to look for quick fixes like drugs and alcohol. While this may serve as a Band-Aid for the time being, it is actually paving the way to form a serious substance use disorder.

Failing to Ask for Help Can Be Harmful

Veterans have an especially difficult time overcoming the stigma behind reaching out for help. There are resources available that are catered to their specific situation through various different programs, but the difficulty lies within them truly obtaining the help. Those that give into the stigmatization neglect getting help and will often use drugs or alcohol because they give a temporary quick-fix solution. This can be mistaken for healing, so the process is repeated over and over, forming a substance use disorder.

Those that have served in the military have an especially hard time overcoming this stigma. The public stigma of mental health treatment plays directly into how many veterans will choose to seek out help. So, more veterans are opting to attempt to heal themselves by whatever means that they find necessary.

What’s Wrong With Simply Coping?

With all the information above, it is easy to see how veterans would need to find the best coping mechanisms that they possibly can. Sadly, for many, these are not healthy ways to cope.

The stigmatization of asking for help may lead to coping mechanisms such as self-harm, drug and alcohol use, and even suicide. Non-suicidal self-injury takes place when someone wishes to hurt themselves without causing death. Between 57% and 66% of treatment-seeking male veterans have a lifetime history of non-suicidal self-harm. This is a common way for a person to feel their emotional pain in a physical way.

While those who utilize non-suicidal self-injury have no intentions of committing suicide while partaking in this coping mechanism, many veterans do truly wish to end their lives. In 2019, an estimated 17.2 veterans committed suicide each day.

Then, there are instances where the goal is simply to numb the negative feelings. This is most often seen by those that are using substances in an attempt to mend what they believe is broken.

Substance Use Disorders Among Veterans

There is a direct link to substance use disorder within the veteran community. Since the use of substances, such as alcohol and drugs, can serve as a coping mechanism that is widely available, this comes as no surprise. Close to 11% of veterans who were being seen for first-time care met the criteria for substance use disorder. Since a large number of veterans never seek care, the true percentage of those suffering may be much higher than 11%.

Using the 11% statistic, 11 out of every 100 veterans that were comfortable enough to receive care struggled with substance use ranging from alcohol to illicit drugs. This substance use can inadvertently lead to suicide by overdose or death from other health complications. So, even if the use of these substances begins with wanting to escape from reality, it has the potential to end up in a deadly situation.

What Is Withdrawal Like?

Another challenge those using substances as a coping mechanism face is withdrawal. Even if a person wishes to stop using substances, the withdrawal will often become a hindrance to them. As the body adapts to a steady stream of substances, it learns to depend upon them to function. Once this stream has stopped, many life-altering and even life-threatening symptoms can set in. Symptoms of withdrawal can include:

  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Tremors
  • Inability to sleep or rest
  • Thoughts of suicide

It can be difficult to deal with these symptoms. The sheer discomfort that they cause can push a person to use a substance just for relief.

For anyone wishing to seek help for a substance use disorder, options are available. You do not have to endure these symptoms alone. Seeking help is the first step to recovery.

Getting Help for a Substance Use Disorder

Receiving treatment for substance use disorder is the first step to healing from the trauma that you have endured as a veteran. This can ensure that you will have a higher quality of life as it is extremely difficult to gain a leg up when you are battling addiction and the consequences that it brings. But it is possible for veterans to live a happy, sober life when they seek treatment. Conquering addiction is possible, and we are here to help.

Treatment for Substance Use Disorder

Addiction is complex, but it is treatable. There are many options available for you, and, treatment approaches vary greatly. Veterans who are struggling with substance use disorder can choose treatment in one or more categories that feel right.

In the realm of therapy, options for treatment can include:

  • Outpatient therapy on a short-term basis
  • Marriage and family counseling
  • Relapse prevention
  • Extensive outpatient therapy
  • Inpatient rehab
  • Medically supervised detox
  • PTSD-specific treatment programs

Other options aside from these therapy-focused treatment choices are medicinally based treatment choices such as medically managed detoxification, methadone and buprenorphine treatment, and nicotine replacement.

You will also have access to treatment and support for other accompanying issues, such as PTSD and depression. Effective treatment will not stop with your substance use disorder but will also assess any other possible needs in terms of treatment.

Becoming a client for treatment can be stressful, especially for those who have no experience with any sort of treatment and are a bit weary of what it entails. In addition to your formal treatment, there are options available that you can utilize at your own pace. These will serve as a way for you to become familiar with the community and others in it who are struggling in a similar manner as you are. You may find yourself more comfortable with your treatment plan once you have found other people that are in the same situation. You don’t have to go through this alone.

There are programs put into place where people understand what you are going through because they have gone through it too. Oftentimes, you get the chance to share with others who are struggling with a similar substance use disorder as yourself. Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) offer a group setting where you can get help with your recovery from those that are in recovery themselves. Storytelling, information sharing, and just having someone that understands you are all beneficial to the process. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon meetings are also available for family members and friends of those who are struggling with substance use.

If you or a veteran you know struggles with substance use disorder, help is available. Reach out to us at for the help that you need and deserve.