Military life is typically seen through the lens of the soldier. After all, they are the ones sacrificing for our country. However, behind every soldier are spouses, partners, children, parents, and siblings who are also making sacrifices for our country. Most of the time, this is not even their choice. The stressors and rigors of military life can lead to the use of substances to cope. This can often lead to partners or children of those in the military becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Living in a Family With a Regimented Life
Military life is not for everyone. The rules are strict, and the schedule is demanding. Even when not on duty, those who serve are often strict themselves, treating their families and relationships as extensions of their military units. This may work well for those with similar personalities, but for many family members of military personnel, living with all of the rules and structure of military life can be very stressful.
Then there are the transfers. Military families are often asked to pack up and leave schools, friends, and everything they know behind to move to an all-new location not of their choosing. These transfers do not happen conveniently over summer or even winter school breaks or even move you closer to extended family or friends. The military tells you when and where you are going, and you must abide. This is incredibly difficult on spouses or partners, and especially children of military personnel who often do not understand why they must leave everyone behind and make all new friends randomly.
Being Left Behind During Deployment
Worse still are the stressors of deployment. When a partner or parent leaves to go on active duty, the question of “Are they coming home?” creates an immediate crisis reaction internally. This reaction begins with the news of deployment, and does not end until their loved one is home again, safe in their arms. Carrying this level of stress for that long can be very traumatic for family members who are left behind.
Some of the specific stressors military spouses or partners go through with every deployment include:
- Fear for the safety of their partner
- Prolonged periods of separation
- Increased marital strain
- Maintaining household and family alone
- Mental, emotional, and physical concerns for the well-being of their family
- As a parent, dealing with the children’s stress surrounding deployment
Coping With the Stress of Military Life
These stressors that military family members must endure extend well above and beyond typical family stressors. They can reach out for support to extended family and other military families who are in the same circumstances, but there is a lot of stress to manage. There is also a spouse, partner, or parent missing who would normally help them cope with stressful situations. This increased stress can lead to serious mental health issues, including increased levels of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation.
When the stress becomes too difficult to manage on their own, some spouses, partners, or children will begin turning to drugs or alcohol to help them cope. Partners may not drink regularly, but they often binge drink, especially during deployment or other particularly stressful times. One study from 2020 published in PubMed Central showed that military spouses had high rates of alcohol consumption, regardless of whether or not their spouse had been deployed. The study, although small, showed that 12% of the spouses met the criteria for problematic drinking, which was considered high for that population.
When Coping Turns to Addiction
Substance use that began as coping can easily turn to problematic substance use or addiction. In families that are already mentally and emotionally taxed, with one partner or parent deployed for long periods of time, having the other partner or parent or even a child with a substance use disorder can be a breaking point for the entire family. Just as military service affects the entire family, addiction also impacts the entire family.
Is There A Way Back From Addiction?
On the bright side, individuals and families can find healing from substance use disorders. The road back is filled with challenges but is also very worthwhile. There is no shame in seeking treatment for substance abuse, just like there is no shame in seeking treatment for any other medical condition. Family members of soldiers can enroll in detox and treatment programs where they can learn not only how to live clean and sober but also how to thrive. Making the choice to enter the recovery path can be life-changing for both you and your entire family.
Family members of military service people face addiction as they try to cope with the extreme levels of stress that military life creates. Whether it is the regimented lifestyle, constant transfers, or managing the absence of their loved one during deployment, some family members use substances to cope. At West Coast Recovery Centers, we want to help you and your family find healing from addiction. Conveniently located near Camp Pendleton and other Southern California military bases, we are available to help military families heal. We offer truly individualized care throughout our different programs, with a variety of both evidence-based and holistic modalities for you to experience and choose from. Our goal is to support your and help you transition back into healthy routines through our outpatient care environments. Call West Coast Recovery Centers today at (760) 492-6509 to learn more.