Supporting Veterans: Managing Triggers and Preventing Relapse

Last Updated: March 1, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Overcoming addiction involves mastering the skill of managing triggers to prevent a fallback. Post-recovery, individuals encounter various triggers, yet veterans deal with distinct hurdles stemming from their military service experiences. Thankfully, there are proven tactics available to handle these veteran-specific triggers, aiding in maintaining a steadfast dedication to recovery.

Veterans and Their Battle with Addiction

Veterans facing addiction often encounter unique challenges due to their military service. Research indicates that approximately 11% of veterans seeking care at the VA struggle with substance use disorders. However, this figure may underestimate the true prevalence, as not all veterans with addiction seek treatment.

Among male veterans, about 10.5% grapple with alcohol use disorder, while 4.8% contend with drug use disorder. In female veterans, these rates are slightly lower, with 4.8% experiencing alcohol use disorder and 2.4% facing drug use disorder.

The stressors inherent in military service can contribute to addiction among veterans. Drugs and alcohol sometimes serve as coping mechanisms for the physical and emotional tolls of military life.

Unique Triggers: PTSD and Mental Health

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a significant trigger for addiction among veterans. Roughly one-third of veterans seeking addiction treatment also have PTSD, creating a complex interplay between mental health and substance use.

PTSD symptoms, such as sleep disturbances and intrusive memories, can trigger substance use as a temporary escape from emotional distress. However, relying on substances for relief often exacerbates mental health issues over time, worsening conditions like depression.

Pain-Related Triggers: Service-Related Injuries

Service-related injuries are another trigger for addiction among veterans, especially when treated with opioid pain medications. Research indicates that opioids are frequently prescribed to veterans for chronic pain management, particularly those with co-occurring mental health conditions.

Veterans coping with injuries and chronic pain may turn to substances to alleviate physical discomfort. However, the risk of addiction is heightened, particularly for those with PTSD or other mental health diagnoses.

Common Triggers: Shared Challenges

While veterans face unique triggers, they also encounter common relapse triggers such as stress, social isolation, and drug cravings. Fortunately, there are strategies to navigate these challenges and maintain recovery.

Strategies for Coping with Veteran-Specific Triggers

Managing PTSD-related triggers requires tailored approaches, including:

  • Seeking support from friends and family
  • Engaging in enjoyable hobbies and activities
  • Practicing relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga
  • Spending time in nature and participating in gentle exercises

Navigating Pain-Related Triggers

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

  • Massage therapy
  • Mindfulness practices
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Exercise programs like Tai Chi and yoga

Building Resilience: General Relapse Prevention

In addition to veteran-specific strategies, general relapse prevention techniques are essential:

  • Participating in support groups like AA or NA
  • Prioritizing relaxation and stress management
  • Avoiding triggers associated with addiction
  • Practicing self-care through healthy lifestyle habits

Tools for Managing Triggers

Several resources cater specifically to veterans dealing with addiction and mental health challenges:

Supplements, Not Substitutes

While these tools are beneficial, they are not substitutes for professional treatment. Engaging in a comprehensive treatment program is crucial for long-term recovery, providing individualized therapy, and addressing co-occurring mental health issues.

Explore Veteran-Centric Treatment

Veterans seeking addiction treatment can benefit from specialized programs like the FORTITUDE program offered by The Recovery Village. These programs address addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders, providing tailored support for veterans and first responders. Reach out to a Veteran Advocate to begin your journey to recovery.


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. 

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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