Veterans face a myriad of challenges each and every day. From continuously adjusting their lifestyle to adapt to civilian life to coping with the ongoing emotional impact of their time in the military, veterans need support navigating these stresses. Traumatic experiences are common and are often accompanied by the use of addictive substances in an effort to self-medicate. Addiction is a persistent danger, and learning to properly and effectively communicate with veterans is crucial for supporting these important community members on their path to recovery.
The Unique Stresses of Veterans
In order to effectively communicate with veterans suffering from addiction, it is important to understand the nature of the challenges they often face. There is no way to truly put oneself in their position or imagine the traumatic experiences, injuries, active warzones, or the loss of brothers and sisters in arms without having been there. Acknowledging that there will always be some kind of barrier is important for connecting with the needs of veterans. However, one doesn’t have to have lived through these experiences in order to better understand the needs and trials veterans face.
Trauma is just one part of what veterans face on a daily basis, and one’s military training can persist long after one has been discharged from service. The constant vigilance, anxiety, and loneliness can continue to inform one’s worldview, making it difficult to ever truly feel comfortable, relaxed, or at ease. This type of hypervigilance takes a heavy emotional and mental toll. Potential nightmares, flashbacks, or other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can make a good night’s sleep difficult to come by, leading to fatigue and emotional turmoil.
Substance Use and Addiction
Addiction is also a major struggle for members of the armed forces. Alcohol abuse can be normalized through the drinking culture in the military, and drug use can be prevalent either as a result of prescription painkillers to cope with injury or in an effort to placate traumatic thoughts, anxieties, and depression. These attempts to self-medicate can be further exacerbated by the idea that military personnel and veterans are supposed to be “bastions of strength,” and that asking for help may compromise this image and somehow make an individual feel as if they have “failed” in some arbitrary way.
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Communicating With Veterans
There is no one way to approach a conversation with veterans, and just because one veteran enjoys recounting their time stationed on active duty doesn’t necessarily mean all veterans enjoy recounting their experiences. Even the happiest of memories can be polluted by recounting times with individuals who didn’t survive or who suffered a traumatic injury while on tour. It is possible to support veterans while not prying about some of the most traumatic experiences that they may have faced. For those willing to share, listening to their stories is an integral way to build a basis for which to communicate. However, it is important not to pressure veterans about this time if they are unwilling or not yet ready to share in these experiences. Utilizing dedicated, trauma-informed recovery practices is necessary to navigate these conversations effectively.
Make Conversations About the Present
Veterans suffering from addiction may be engaging with substances as a result of ongoing traumas, and one’s use can cause an individual to feel emotionally “stuck” in these experiences. Using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate can further this feeling, with an individual feeling trapped in a cyclic routine of using addictive substances to placate these traumas. Asking about the present and what one wants to do and their goals for civilian life is important in creating a conversation about addiction. By helping direct the conversation to the present, it is also possible to help highlight how one’s use of substances may be affecting one’s daily life and health.
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Talk to the Person, Not the Title
Veterans are often touted as the pinnacles of strength and protection whose bravery knows no bounds. However, it is important to peel back these facades in order to allow for an honest dialogue. Veterans are people with human needs and struggles, and approaching a conversation where vulnerability is okay and one is allowed to express weakness is necessary for helping break past destructive barriers.
Avoid Accusatory Langauge
Addiction is the result of a myriad of factors, and avoiding language that blames an individual for their use of addictive substances is crucial. In order to develop a conversation about addiction, it is first important to establish addiction as a disease that isn’t the fault of any single person or their decisions. Approaching addiction as a disease with a number of external factors rather than a sign of individual weakness is crucial for developing any kind of constructive dialogue around recovery and treatment, and acknowledging the cultures and traumas that veterans face is a better bridge to support addiction recovery than any kind of accusatory language.
Veterans are an integral part of our community, as we at Hawaii Island Recovery are committed to helping veterans address and overcome the struggles that may plague daily life. From drug and alcohol addiction treatment and trauma-informed therapy to creating a comfortable, effective center for alcohol and drug treatment, we are prepared to help you or a loved one take the first step towards a healthier, sober future. Your time with us can be personalized to address your unique needs and goals, developing strategies that build upon your strengths and experiences while creating a safe and comfortable atmosphere to explore your vulnerabilities. Our unique blend of proven support and the natural beauty of Hawaii can help you embrace a wholly transformative experience. For more information on how we can personalize your time with us, or to speak to a caring staff member about your needs and goals, call (866) 390-5070.