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Talking to a buddy or loved one about addiction can be awkward, challenging, or even scary.

You may worry that you’re overstepping your bounds, or that bringing it up could make the problem worse or hurt your relationship. But if someone you care about is showing signs of substance abuse, it’s important to face it right away. Starting a conversation could be the turning point that spurs them to get help.

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How to talk to someone about substance use

Before talking to a buddy or a someone close to you about your concerns, understand that they may not be ready to hear what you have to say, they might deny that there is an issue, or they might find it difficult to accept your help. Keep in mind that veterans face unique challenges and have sometimes had traumatic experiences that can be difficult for nonveterans to relate to.

Here are some ways you can gently start a conversation with someone you’re concerned about, focusing on your own observations:

  • I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.
  • I’ve noticed you’ve been acting differently lately, and I’m wondering how you’re doing.
  • I’ve been worried about you lately.
  • I’ve noticed you’ve been drinking a lot lately, and I’m wondering how you’re doing.
  • I’ve noticed you’ve been using [insert drug name], and I’m worried about you.

Once you’ve started the conversation, you can begin to ask questions such as these:

  • When did you first start feeling like this?
  • Do you feel like you’re trying to escape or forget something?
  • Do you feel like your drug use/drinking is a problem?
  • Do you think you could go 24 hours without using drugs/drinking? A week?
  • What can I do to best support you right now?
  • Have you thought about getting help?

Remember, you’re there to provide support, not to fix the situation or dominate the conversation. It’s important to listen and respond, when appropriate, with encouraging words, such as:

  • I want you to know that you are not alone — even if that’s how it feels to you.
  • I am here for you, and I want to help you in any way that I can.
  • It may not seem like it right now, but you can be in control of your life again.
  • I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I love you and want to help.

The best thing you can do in these situations is listen — asking guiding questions to keep the conversation going when necessary, but also really allowing your loved one or friend to talk about what’s going on in their lives. Opening up the channels of communication may help them feel less alone and start working toward acknowledging that they have a problem.

How to help a loved one with addiction

  • Seek professional help. Contact a local addiction or mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor, or meet with a doctor for an initial evaluation. The military and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offer treatment programs that are tailored to the experiences of service members and veterans.
  • Get local support. VA has a specialized opioid treatment program and facilities around the country. You can use VA’s resource locator to find a local facility. Or visit the Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous websites to find local support for drug and alcohol addiction. These groups provide a network of encouragement and solidarity for those who are working to overcome their addictions. 
  • Follow up on treatment. If a therapist or counselor recommends a change in your loved one’s treatment, social habits, exercise routine, or other activities to help cope with their addiction, be sure to support your loved one in making this change. Be aware that everyone is different and that it typically takes time and patience to find the “right fit” when it comes to treatment.
  • Be encouraging. People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol may think they’ll never recover or that they’re unworthy of help, so they need someone in their lives who can constantly remind them that things can and will get better.​

Support for service members and veterans

You don’t have to deal with drug or alcohol problems alone. Many resources are available to military personnel and veterans, offering substance abuse prevention specialists, counseling centers, or other mental health resources for support.

Department of Veterans Affairs

For veterans experiencing problems with substance misuse, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or your health insurance provider can connect you with a recovery program, such as inpatient rehab or outpatient therapy. Working with a health care professional can help you manage withdrawal symptoms during the detox phase of recovery (getting the drugs or alcohol out of your system) and learn ways to manage cravings. VA health care providers can refer veterans to long-term resources that have worked for others or identify effective support groups. Your local Vet Center can be a helpful starting point for finding support and starting your recovery.

Military Health System

Detecting problems with substance use early can help increase the chances of successful treatment. Health.mil has a page dedicated to pointing out signs of a substance use problem along with links to support programs tailored to specific service branches.

National Center for PTSD

Drinking and drug use are common ways to cope with bad memories and traumatic events from military experiences or other major life events. The National Center for PTSD is a great resource for learning about the latest research findings and consulting with professionals about coping after a traumatic experience.

Drug Take Back Program

The Military Health System established the Drug Take Back Program to help beneficiaries properly dispose of their prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. The program is available at all military treatment facility pharmacies in the United States.

Make the Connection

VA’s Make the Connection campaign enables veterans, service members, and their family members and friends to hear stories from fellow veterans who have coped with difficult life experiences, mental health challenges, and substance use issues. The Make the Connection website features a video gallery of hundreds of veterans talking about how they recognized their problems, found support, and got better. There is a story on the site that every service member and veteran can relate to, along with information on VA and community-based sources of support.

Veterans Crisis Line

Whether you’re concerned about your personal safety or the safety of a friend or family member who is in crisis, the Veterans Crisis Line will connect you with qualified, caring responders through a toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. This confidential support service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Get support by finding local resources and support centers.