Empowering Veterans: Strategies to Navigate Triggers and Maintain Sobriety

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Updated 03/01/2024

The path to addiction recovery includes learning how to deal with triggers to avoid  relapse. Triggers become a common experience post-recovery, especially for veterans who confront unique obstacles linked to their military tenure. Fortunately, targeted strategies are in place for managing these veteran-centric triggers, helping to keep one’s recovery on track.

Understanding Veterans’ Battle with Addiction

For veterans, the journey to overcome addiction is fraught with distinctive hurdles shaped by their military experiences. Studies indicate that roughly 11% of veterans seeking care from the VA live with substance use disorders. However, this figure likely underestimates the true prevalence of addiction among veterans because not everyone with an addiction seeks help. 

Among male veterans, alcohol use disorder affects 10.5%, while drug use disorder impacts 4.8%. In female veterans, these rates slightly dip, with 4.8% facing alcohol use disorder and 2.4% dealing with drug use disorder.

Military life, punctuated by stressors like combat exposure and traumatic deployments, can lay the groundwork for addiction among veterans. Substances may emerge as a coping mechanism to alleviate the physical and emotional toll endured during service.

Unique Triggers: PTSD and Mental Health Struggles

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) emerges as a significant trigger for addiction among veterans, with approximately one-third of those seeking addiction treatment also grappling with PTSD.

PTSD symptoms, ranging from intrusive memories to sleep disturbances, can prompt veterans to seek solace in substances. However, reliance on drugs or alcohol often exacerbates underlying mental health conditions over time, worsening issues like depression.

Pain-Related Triggers: Addressing Service-Connected Injuries

Service-related injuries, often treated with opioid pain medications, present another notable trigger for addiction among veterans. Research reveals the prevalent prescription of opioids to veterans for managing chronic pain, especially among those contending with co-occurring mental health conditions.

Veterans navigating injuries and chronic pain may turn to substances as a coping mechanism. Yet, the risk of addiction escalates, particularly for individuals concurrently diagnosed with PTSD or other mental health disorders.

Common Triggers: Shared Challenges in Recovery

Beyond unique triggers, veterans encounter common relapse triggers such as stress, social isolation, and drug cravings. Nonetheless, effective strategies exist to navigate these challenges and sustain sobriety.

Strategies for Coping with Veteran-Specific Triggers

Mitigating PTSD-related triggers necessitates tailored approaches, including:

  • Seeking support from trusted confidants and family members
  • Engaging in pleasurable hobbies and activities to uplift spirits
  • Embracing relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga
  • Enjoying the therapeutic benefits of nature through time spent outdoors

Navigating Pain-Related Triggers

Veterans grappling with pain-related triggers can explore alternative pain management strategies, including:

  • Embracing the healing touch of massage therapy to lessen physical discomfort
  • Cultivating mindfulness practices to foster self-awareness and alleviate stress
  • Harnessing the rehabilitative potential of physical and occupational therapy to enhance functionality
  • Tapping into the holistic benefits of exercise modalities like Tai Chi and yoga to foster overall well-being and pain relief

Building Resilience: General Relapse Prevention Techniques

In addition to veteran-specific strategies, universal relapse prevention techniques play a pivotal role in fortifying sobriety:

  • Engaging in support groups such as AA or NA to foster camaraderie and glean insights
  • Prioritizing self-care through holistic lifestyle habits encompassing nutrition, exercise, and restorative sleep
  • Steering clear of triggers associated with addiction by exercising vigilance in identifying and avoiding risky situations
  • Employing stress management techniques to navigate life’s challenges without resorting to substance use

Tools for Managing Triggers

An array of resources stands ready to assist veterans in navigating addiction and mental health challenges, including:

Supplements, Not Substitutes

While these tools serve as valuable adjuncts to recovery efforts, they do not replace professional treatment. Enrolling in a comprehensive treatment program tailored to veterans’ unique needs is indispensable for fostering lasting recovery.

Explore Veteran-Centric Treatment

Veterans embarking on the path to addiction recovery can find solace in specialized programs like the FORTITUDE program offered by The Recovery Village. These programs address addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders, furnishing personalized support for veterans and first responders. Connect with a Veteran Advocate today to commence your journey towards holistic healing and restoration.

View Sources

Teeters, Jenni, et al. “Substance use disorders in military veterans: prevalence and treatment challenges.” Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 2017. Accessed February 21, 2024.


U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans.” March 30, 2023. Accessed February 21, 2024.


Menon, Jayakrishnan; Kandasamy, Arun. “Relapse prevention.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, February 2018. Accessed February 21, 2024.


U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Coping with Traumatic Stress Reactions.” March 30, 2023. Accessed February 21, 2024.


Giannitrapani, Karleen, et al. “Veteran Experiences Seeking Non-pharmacologic Approaches for Pain.” Military Medicine, 2018. Accessed February 21, 2024.


Melemis, Steven. “Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, September 2015. Accessed February 21, 2024.


U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Coping With Unwanted Thoughts: RESET for Active-duty Soldiers.” June 7, 2023. Accessed February 21, 2024.


U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “VA Mobile Apps.” August 25, 2022. Accessed February 21, 2024.


National Center for PTSD. “PTSD Coach Online.” Accessed February 21, 2024.


VetChange. “Take Control of Your Drinking.” Accessed February 21, 2024.

National Center for PTSD. “Insomnia Coach.” June 11, 2020. Accessed February 21, 2024.


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