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Active members of the military, veterans, and their families are more likely to experience issues related to mental health and substance use disorder (SUD). The most common substances misused by men and women with a history of military service include alcohol and marijuana. 

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, “Among veterans with a substance use disorder…4 in 5 (80.9% or 343k) struggled with alcohol use.” Alcohol misuse increases the risk of co-occurring mental health disorders and the misuse of additional substances. Facilities like West Coast Recovery Centers help active military, veterans, and their families heal from the damaging effects of trauma related to SUD.

The Relationship Between Trauma and Substance Misuse

The loved ones of active military personnel and veterans often struggle with the trauma of witnessing someone close to them going through difficult or stressful situations. The whole family unit can have trauma-related mental health issues caused by stressful events during military services. Trauma can increase the risk of SUD and mental health disorders if left untreated. 

Trauma and substance misuse can affect people in multiple ways, including: 

  • Individuals can misuse substances to self-medicate and cope with the effects of trauma or chronic stress
  • Complications related to substance misuse, including experiencing or witnessing an overdose, can lead to trauma
  • Independently occurring trauma and substance misuse can worsen symptoms of both conditions 

The military has a strict no-drug policy with frequent drug screenings. Due to this fact, most individuals who have served find themselves struggling with substance misuse after discharging. 

Finding Stability After Being Discharged

Reaching the end of your military service means facing significant changes to personal and professional relationships, environments, and expectations. Many veterans have untreated trauma that does not begin to manifest until after they leave the military. Once they have time and space to start processing traumatic experiences, many people have difficulty coping with the memories and intrusive thoughts. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common mental health disorder experienced by individuals who have worked in high-stress positions, including: 

  • Working in or near a war zone
  • Experiencing or witnessing terrorist activities
  • Experiencing or witnessing a natural disaster 
  • Being severely injured
  • Experiencing or witnessing a traumatic accident 

Many veterans feel overwhelmed by trauma after being discharged and may use alcohol or drugs to cope with the symptoms. In addition, they no longer have the mandatory drug tests and other built-in deterrents present during military service. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), “Reported rates of illicit drug use increase when active duty personnel leave military service.” Some veterans have difficulty adjusting to civilian life, and the transition can increase the risk of developing mental health disorders or SUD. 

The families of individuals in the military also have a higher risk of being diagnosed with SUD or a mental health disorder after the discharge of their family member. In some cases, this is due to shifted family dynamics. Other times, several issues feed off one another to create a mental health crisis for multiple family members. Long-term recovery is possible by participating in effective, evidence-based treatments, including family therapy.

Evidence-Based Trauma Treatment  

Trauma-informed treatment for SUD can significantly decrease or eliminate symptoms of trauma-related mental health disorders like PTSD. West Coast Recovery Centers use trauma-informed care to ensure clients do not experience re-traumatization during rehabilitation. The clinical team considered each individual’s unique needs and preferences to provide the best possible outcome. Personalized treatments decrease symptoms, develop life skills, and improve emotional stability. 

Some of the most common treatment options for trauma include: 

  • Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) 
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) 
  • Exposure therapy 
  • Experiential therapy 
  • Prescription medication to manage symptoms of anxiety or depression 
  • Individual, group, and family therapy 
  • Peer support groups 

Aftercare and Long-Term Recovery for Military Families

Recovery does not end when you complete a rehabilitation program. Most individuals with SUD and co-occurring trauma go through multiple levels of care before reaching a point where they feel confident in their ability to independently maintain sobriety. Families and individuals coping with trauma related to military service often find it helpful to attend veteran support groups. Most cities offer a variety of options, including self-help and 12-Step meetings where people in recovery and their family members can become part of a supportive community. 

Aftercare is a vulnerable time for many people, and family involvement in recovery can significantly decrease the risk of relapse. Facilities like West Coast Recovery Centers collaborate with clients to ensure they have personalized aftercare that includes family involvement in therapy if that is in the client’s best interest. 

Traumatic events experienced during military service can significantly impact mental and physical health. In addition, the family members of military veterans and active personnel can experience mental health issues related to the loss of a loved one, second-hand exposure to the effects of war, terrorism, and other traumas. You are not alone, and there is hope. Many families and individuals feel overwhelmed by traumas experienced during military service. We can help you manage symptoms and heal from the effect of trauma using evidence-based methods. The dedicated team at West Coast Recovery Centers can help you or your loved one reprocess the trauma and find healthy ways to manage symptoms. You can live a healthy and happy life free from the effects of trauma. To learn more about the programs we offer, call us today at (760) 492-6509 to speak with a representative.  

West Coast Recovery Centers ( 370135CP), Valid through July 31, 2025
Jackson House Visalia (540056AP), Valid through May 15, 2025
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