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The Role of Family and Loved Ones in Substance Misuse

soldiers meditating

Army National Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Kiel Skager

Studies have shown a link between stressful life events and substance misuse in the military. Service members frequently experience stress due to situations like training, combat or multiple deployments. Service members who have experienced these events may turn to substances to help them find relief. This can include using alcohol, tobacco, or prescription and non-prescription drugs.

Difficulty coping with a traumatic event does not automatically lead to substance misuse, but it may mean your loved one is more at risk. If your warrior is coping with substance misuse, you can help by encouraging the service member to get professional treatment. Without support, substance misuse can spiral out of control. This can lead to added concerns like anxiety, sleep loss and trouble managing relationships or other responsibilities.

How You Can Help

Keeping an open mind can help create a safe environment that may encourage your loved one to talk more openly. You can begin by learning about the types of stressors and emotions your loved one may experience. Try to focus on your loved one and not the substance misuse.

Overcoming substance misuse can be a challenging process filled with highs and lows. You and your loved one may find yourselves becoming discouraged, but it’s important to stay positive. Encourage your loved one to reach out for professional help. Seeking care is an important first step for all warriors coping with substance misuse or other psychological health concerns. It is a sign of strength. You can encourage them to have you join the first appointment. Some other tips include:

Do:

  • Listen to their concerns
  • Acknowledge concerning behaviors
  • Offer sympathy and support
  • Seek expert advice from a health care provider
  • Assist with chosen form of treatment, if possible


Do Not:

  • Panic or offer pity
  • Offer financial assistance
  • Set unrealistic goals for your loved one’s recovery timeline
  • Cut off dialogue

Care for Yourself

Families and friends of service members or veterans provide the majority of support for both physical and emotional wounds. This can be a challenging role. You can best care for your warrior by first making your own wellness a priority. Refer to the Real Warriors Campaign article “Caring for Yourself while Helping Support Your Service Member” or “Five Tips for Caregivers” trifold for more information.

Here is a list of some tips for maintaining your health while caring for others:

  • Make time for yourself
  • Exercise
  • Eat healthy
  • Practice deep breathing or meditation
  • Stay optimistic
  • Take a walk

Resources are available to help you and your loved one find success. Reach out to your health care provider or contact the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Caregiver Support Line (855-260-3274) to learn more.

If you or a loved one needs additional support, you can contact the DCoE Outreach Center to confidentially speak with a trained health resource consultant 24/7, call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1. Visit our “Seek Help, Find Care” page to see a list of key psychological health resources.

Additional Resources

Sources

  • Substance abuse in the military.” (2013 March). National Institute of Drug Abuse.
  • Caregivers.” (n.d.). National Military Family Association.
  • Committee on Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Management of Substance Use Disorders in the U.S. Armed Forces, Board on the Health of Select Populations and Institute of Medicine."Substance use disorders in the U.S. Armed Forces.” (2013, Feb. 21). Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences.
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