The Role of Family and Loved Ones in Substance Misuse
Through the years, studies from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and other organizations have shown a relationship in service members between stressful events during training or while deployed, and later a dependence upon alcohol, tobacco or other substances.1 Those who have experienced such stressful events may turn to substance use to help them find relief or temporarily distract themselves from stress, upsetting memories, depression and/or troubled sleeping.2 Some individuals also report that chronic pain resulting from an injury can be so distracting and debilitating that they may turn to substance abuse as a way to manage the pain.
Having difficulty coping with a traumatic event does not automatically cause problems with alcohol or substances; however, service members who have experienced combat and traumatic experiences are more likely than others to have problems with substance use.2 Without support, substance misuse can spiral out of control, leading to continued difficulty with combat stress, tension, sleep, relationships and managing responsibilities.2
Family members can help their service member by seeking out information and understanding some of the stressors and emotions a service member may experience as they cope with substance use problems. Family members also benefit from knowing how best to offer support and encouragement. The information in this article is designed to help family members provide the care and support needed to help service members reach and sustain recovery.
Overcoming substance dependence can be a challenging process filled with high and low points along the way. Service members or military family members may find themselves becoming discouraged after repeated attempts to help themselves or a loved one. The best way to support a loved one exhibiting symptoms of substance dependence is to focus on the person, not the dependence — stay positive and reach out for help. Some tips for helping your loved one include:3
- Offer sympathy and support
- Actively listen to their concerns
- Acknowledge concerning behaviors
- Seek expert advice
- Consult others 'in recovery'
- Assist with chosen form of treatment
- Panic or offer pity
- Offer monetary assistance
- Set unrealistic goals
- Cut off dialogue
- Influence treatment
Admitting a substance abuse problem is a difficult task. Keeping an open mind will help create a safe environment that may encourage service members to talk more openly and seek help.
Taking Care of Yourself
Families and friends of returning service members provide the majority of support for both physical and emotional wounds. The level of support provided differs depending on the severity and the physical location of the person. Live-in family members, such as spouses, parents or children, may take on more responsibility simply because they are more available and accessible to offer help. Whatever your role may be, it is important to remember your own psychological and physical wellness. Refer to the article “Caring for Yourself while Helping Support Your Service Member” for more information.
As you offer support to your service member, remember to take care of yourself. Caring for loved ones as they overcome challenges can have physical and emotional effects on you as the care giver. The National Military Family Association outlines the importance of remaining healthy to be able to continuing offering support to your service member. Below is a list of some suggestions for maintaining health while caring for others:4
- Stay hydrated
- Eat right
- Practice deep breathing
- Stay positive and optimistic
- Take alone time for yourself
- Take a walk
- Look for beauty in your daily life
Family Support Resources
Resources, in all forms, are available to help you and your service member find success. All military installations and organizations provide specialized information, resources and services — such as outreach call centers — and provide health care professionals to answer questions on discussion boards. Check out the following Web sites for more information:
- afterdeployment.org is a mental wellness resource for service members, veterans and military families. Its services focus on providing assistance through post-deployment challenges, such as coping with a substance abuse problem . Here you will find fact sheets, videos, interactive tools, self-check quizzes and more.
- Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) maximizes opportunities for warriors and families to thrive through collaborative global networks promoting resilience, recovery and reintegration for psychological health and traumatic brain injuries. DCoE provides informational fact sheets, research updates and highlights events and conferences for more detailed information. For additional information, contact the DCoE Outreach Center 24/7:
- Military OneSource is a 24/7 resource for military members, spouses and families filled with information, podcasts, webinars, videos, interactive tools, self-check tests, announcements and discussion boards.
- Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator is a searchable directory of drug and alcohol treatment programs shows the location of facilities around the country that treat alcoholism, alcohol abuse and drug abuse problems. The Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator includes more than 11,000 addiction treatment programs, including residential treatment centers, outpatient treatment programs and hospital inpatient programs for drug addiction and alcoholism. Listings include treatment programs for marijuana, cocaine and heroin addiction, as well as drug and alcohol treatment programs for adolescents and adults.
Service-Specific Resources for Your Loved One
The Army Substance Abuse Program [PDF 1.19MB] outlines policies, procedures and guidelines for helping soldiers overcome a substance dependence problem.
The Marine Corps Substance Abuse Program’s main mission is to provide Marine Corps plans, policy and resources to improve and sustain the capabilities of commanders to provide opportunities to prevent problems which detract from unit performance and readiness.
On the Alcohol Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) page, you will find information on services available to airmen to help them overcome substance abuse.
The Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Program offers information and assistance to support individual and command alcohol abuse and drug use prevention efforts.
National Guard and Reserve
Military OneSource provides National Guard members and reservists with service-specific information to help them overcome substance abuse.
- Alcohol and Drug Abuse Information and Resources
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol and Health
- Alcoholics Anonymous and the Armed Services [PDF 937.85KB]
- Alcoholics Anonymous Homepage
- Narcotics Anonymous
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
- More information on supporting service members with psychological health concerns
1"The National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Alcohol Use and Alcohol-Related Risk Behaviors Among Veterans [PDF 143.30KB] Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published Nov. 10, 2005.
2"Alcohol & Drugs," [PDF 1.15MB] afterdeployment.org. Last accessed Sept. 23, 2012.
3"Treatment and Recovery: Finding Specialized Help for Substance Use Disorders," Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Last accessed Sept. 23, 2012.
4"Caring for Yourself," National Military Family Association. Last accessed Sept. 23, 2012.