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The Impact of Substance Abuse on Veterans and Their Families

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Last Updated - 06/22/2024

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Key Takeaways

  • Substance use impacts veterans’ families, causing emotional, physical, and financial strains, with the potential for domestic violence.
  • The VA offers a range of treatment options for veterans with SUDs, including medication-assisted treatments, counseling, and therapy.
  • Family members are encouraged to support veterans in seeking treatment and can access counseling services and support groups.
  • Recent initiatives aim to expand treatment services for substance use disorders, highlighting the need for comprehensive support for veterans and their families.

The Problem of Substance Abuse among Veterans

The prevalence of substance misuse among veterans is a significant concern: according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), around 1 in 15 veterans struggle with a substance use disorder, compared to 1 in 20 non-veterans. While the consequences of this substance abuse directly impact the individual, the effects of substance abuse powerfully impact their families in a variety of ways.

The Ripple Effect of Substance Abuse on Veterans’ Families

The repercussions of substance misuse among veterans extend far beyond the individual, deeply impacting their families, including spouses, partners, and children. Some of these repercussions include

  • Erosion of trust and safety: Substance abuse can erode the foundation of trust and safety within the family unit, leading to a pervasive sense of loss and grief. Partners of veterans with co-occurring disorders such as PTSD and substance use disorders often face heightened distress, manifesting in strained relationships and diminished family satisfaction. Research indicates that the trauma symptoms exhibited by veterans can predict and contribute to emotional turmoil within the family.
  • Escalation of violence: The risk of emotional or physical violence escalates in households where a veteran is struggling with substance abuse and accompanying mental health disorders. This can place family members in precarious situations, often leading to feelings of helplessness and despair. Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes these challenges and recommends that family members support their veteran loved ones by encouraging treatment and seeking help themselves. VA resources such as counseling services and support groups are vital for families coping with the complex dynamics of substance misuse and mental health issues.

It is crucial to acknowledge the multifaceted impact of substance misuse on veterans’ families, which can include emotional, physical, and financial burdens. These effects can ripple out to cause broader issues, such as increased healthcare costs, potential for domestic violence, and challenges in family reintegration. Addressing the needs of veterans’ families is an essential component of the recovery process, ensuring that the support systems surrounding veterans are strong and resilient.

The Emotional Toll of Substance Abuse on Family Members

The emotional impact of substance misuse on family members is profound. Substance use disorders (SUDs) within a family can create an environment of uncertainty and distress, often leading to a range of emotional responses:

  • Intense stress, anxiety, and emotional turmoil: Family members may experience intense stress, anxiety, and emotional turmoil as they navigate the challenges posed by a loved one’s addiction. The National Center for Biotechnology Information notes that the family system is disrupted, with each member adjusting in different ways to maintain a semblance of balance, often at a significant emotional cost.
  • Guilt or shame: Feelings of guilt and shame are common among family members, who may blame themselves for their loved one’s substance abuse or suffer embarrassment from the situation. 
  • Social isolation: The psychological burden can lead to social isolation, as families might withdraw from their community due to stigma and judgment. 
  • Disorientation and confusion: The initial shock of discovering a family member’s addiction can be traumatic, leading to a ‘family in the fog’ scenario where disorientation and confusion prevail, as reported in a systematic review by BMC Psychiatry.
  • Eroding psychological and interpersonal functioning: According to the American Psychological Association, family members often suffer from deteriorated psychological and interpersonal functioning, compounding the emotional distress.

Of course, the emotional toll extends to coping with the erratic behavior of the addicted family member, straining relationships and creating an atmosphere of instability and unpredictability.  Support groups and counseling play a crucial role in helping families manage these emotional challenges, providing a source of information, support, and coping strategies to mitigate the effects of living with a family member’s SUD.

Physical Strains on Families of Veterans with Substance Abuse

The physical and financial burdens on families of veterans struggling with substance misuse are also varied and often severe. The physical manifestations of the this burden can take the form of

  • the potential for family violence (which can lead to further physical and emotional harm)
  • substance-related health issues (which can lead to chronic diseases and the need for ongoing medical attention)
  • trauma-induced health problems in the family members

On the whole, the stress associated with the effects of living with substance abuse can exacerbate family tensions and affect overall well-being.

Financial Burdens on Families of Veterans with Substance Abuse

Financially, families may face increased healthcare costs due to the veteran’s substance abuse. Studies have shown that the financial impact on families caring for individuals with chronic conditions can range widely, causing substantial economic strain.

Medical care must consider the quality of life of families as well as patients, as the impact of disease on family members is often unrecognized and underestimated. The intricate connection between financial stability and family health is further highlighted by the fact that financial strains can lead to reduced life expectancy and increased risk of developing chronic diseases.

Comprehensive Treatment and Support Strategies for Veterans with Substance Abuse Issues

Veterans grappling with substance misuse issues can access a range of treatment options and support systems for themselves and their families. 

Comprehensive Treatment Options for Veterans with Substance Use Disorders

Veterans who struggle with substance use disorders have access to a range of treatment options, which are essential for a successful recovery journey. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides a comprehensive approach that includes 

  • Detoxification: Detoxification services are crucial as the first step in the treatment process, allowing veterans to safely withdraw from substances under medical supervision.
  • Therapy: Following detox, therapy is a core component of the recovery plan. It can include individual, group, or family counseling, addressing the psychological aspects of addiction.
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT): The VA emphasizes the importance of therapy in conjunction with MAT, which combines FDA-approved medications with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders. Medications such as Suboxone, Naltrexone, and Acamprosate are used to manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms, reduce the risk of relapse, and maintain long-term recovery.

For veterans unable to access services directly through the VA, the MISSION Act Community Care Program offers a pathway to receive healthcare from community providers. This program ensures that veterans receive the necessary support, even when VA facilities are not within reach. This is particularly beneficial for veterans living far from VA facilities or requiring specialized care.

The integration of these treatments, coupled with support for co-occurring conditions such as PTSD and depression, provides a holistic approach to addressing the unique needs of veterans dealing with substance use disorders.

Support Resources for Families of Veterans with Substance Abuse Issues

Families of veterans facing substance misuse challenges are not alone in their journey. Family members play a crucial role in the recovery process. The VA encourages families to be supportive and proactive in helping their loved ones seek treatment. Resources for families include counseling services, support groups, and educational materials to better understand substance misuse and co-occurring disorders. 

Various support resources are available to provide counseling, guidance, and educational assistance:

  • The National Center for PTSD highlights the importance of family support when a veteran has PTSD, which often co-occurs with substance misuse. Changes in a veteran’s behavior due to PTSD can result in increased family stress and unmet needs, making external support crucial.
  • The VA Mental Health Services offers a range of services, including same-day mental health care and treatment for various conditions such as PTSD, depression, and substance use disorders. Families can access these services regardless of the veteran’s discharge status or service history. 
  • The Veterans Affairs Mental Health website provides resources for family members and friends to support veterans with mental health challenges. It includes video testimonials and guides on starting conversations and connecting with support networks like MakeTheConnection.net.
  • For immediate crisis intervention, the Veterans Crisis Line (dial 988, Press 1) offers confidential, toll-free support 24/7.
  • The Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program provides grants for services aiding low-income veteran families in securing permanent housing.

It’s also vital for caregivers to care for themselves to prevent burnout. Support groups and in-home care services can offer the necessary help for both the veteran and the caregiver. The emotional and financial toll on families is significant, necessitating comprehensive support systems to address these challenges.

Veteran Recovery Is Our Mission

Our facilities have helped thousands of veterans overcome a drug or alcohol addiction. At Orlando Recovery Center, our treatment programs offer veterans:

  • Veteran Advocates who can navigate the VA on your behalf to enter treatment faster
  • Experienced clinicians trained in military culture and trauma-informed care
  • Dual diagnosis to treat addiction and mental health disorders together  
  • EMDR, a revolutionary treatment that alleviates trauma symptoms

Substance Use and Mental Health Disorder Treatment for Veterans 

For veterans grappling with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders, the VA’s services stand ready to assist. The first step towards recovery is reaching out for help today.

Orlando Recovery Center is a proud member of the VA Community Care Network equipped to accept VA health benefits. Our Veteran Advocates are poised to assist you or a cherished veteran in navigating the VA approval process, ensuring you receive the vital help you deserve. Call us today and ask for a dedicated Veteran Advocate to assist you.


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