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