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Substance Use Disorder

Learn more about substance use disorder, treatment options, self-help tools, and resources to help you recover.

Some Veterans turn to drugs as a way to deal with problems in their daily lives and use illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs for recreation, for relaxation, or for help coping with daily life. You may have started using drugs for fun or to be social, but can't seem to stop. Maybe you feel drugs help reduce the stress in your life or help you forget a problem or painful memories from your time in the military. Maybe you started using opioid painkillers for pain, but then you found yourself taking more than your doctor prescribed and looking for more and more of the medication.

Transitioning from military serviceretirementthe death of a spouse or good friend, leaving your home, losing your job, and being diagnosed with a disease all can trigger emotions that might lead to problems with drug use. However, in the long term, taking drugs or misusing medications causes more problems than it solves.

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Most drug problems start with casual use or with taking medication for a medical problem. People who develop problems with drugs often begin as recreational users, but then need increasingly higher and more frequent doses to feel the effects. After a while, they may take drugs just to function, and before long, they can’t get through the day without the drug.

Signs of drug addiction include:

  • Increased use of the drug (any amount greater than prescribed)
  • Using the drug regularly, either daily or even several times a day
  • Not being able to stop taking the drug
  • Spending your money on the drug, even if you can’t afford it
  • Feeling like you need the drug to deal with everyday problems
  • Focusing large amounts of your time and energy on getting and using the drug
“I always thought you could only get addicted to illegal drugs. I never would’ve guessed how quickly taking sleeping pills could get way out of hand.”

Drug addiction can occur with many different drugs, not just illegal drugs such as heroin. An addiction to drugs can happen if you overuse prescription opioid painkillers such as Vicodin, OxyContin, codeine, and Percocet, inhale household chemicals like glues or sprays, or misuse over-the-counter medicines like cough syrup and cold pills. No matter what type of drug you may be taking, a drug problem influences your behavior. Symptoms of a drug problem can include:

If you are having problems with drugs, it doesn’t mean that you are weak or unable to change. Drug addiction is complicated, and it takes more than will power or good intentions to quit. Using drugs over time changes the brain, which leads to a need or craving for the drug.

There are many effective services for Veterans dealing with drug problems. One of the most proven forms of treatment is counseling or therapy, either alone with a therapist or in a group. Some counseling sessions may also include your family. To make a full recovery, counseling can involve helping you improve and repair other problematic areas of your life at home, at work, with friends, or in everyday situations.

In addition, for some drugs like opiates, treatment may involve taking anti-addiction medications. Or your doctor may decide you need detoxification (detox) before you start other treatment. Drug detox uses medicine to help you safely stop taking drugs and manage the symptoms of withdrawal. You and your doctor will work together to determine what treatment will work best.

“The military instilled in me an immense amount of pride and self-discipline. It was hard to come to terms with my drug addiction at first, but choosing to get the help I needed turned out to be one of the best decisions in my entire life.”

Sometimes recovery from drug problems includes care for other issues that may also be related to using drugs, such as posttraumatic stressdepressionchronic paintrouble sleepingirritability, and relationship problems. A doctor or therapist can help you identify and treat these issues, which can help the process of recovery.

VA offers different options for treating drug problems like opioid addiction to accommodate your unique circumstances. There are programs for Veterans living in rural areas, women’s services, and evening and weekend clinics.

Every day, Veterans from all military service branches and eras connect with proven resources and effective treatments. Here’s how to take the next step: the one that’s right for you.

New to VA? Apply for health care benefits.

Already enrolled in VA and interested in mental health support? Schedule a mental health appointment.

  • If you’re already enrolled and using VA health care, the fastest way to schedule VA appointments is to call the VA facility where you want to receive care.
  • With VA Appointments tools, you can schedule some VA health care appointments online, view details about upcoming appointments, and organize your health care calendar.
  • If you’re not using VA medical services, contact your nearest VA medical center or Vet Center to talk about your needs.

What about other options at VA? VA offers a variety of tools and resources.  

  • The Veteran Training online self-help portal for overcoming everyday challenges includes modules on managing anger, developing parenting and problem-solving skills, and more.
  • Mental health apps for Veterans cover a variety of topics, ranging from PTSD to anger management to quitting smoking.
  • VA TeleMental Health connects you with a VA mental health provider through a computer or mobile device in your home or at your nearest VA health facility. You can learn more about this option from your local VA medical center.
  • Community-based Vet Centers provide confidential counseling, community engagement and referral services to eligible individuals and their families. You don’t need to be enrolled in VA healthcare or have a service connection to receive services. Find a Vet Center near you or call 1-877-927-8387, 24/7 to talk with a fellow Veteran about your experiences.

What about support beyond VA?

There’s a whole community of support ready to help with whatever you’re going through. Use this tool to find resources near you.

Read Next

Managing PTSD

PTSD may develop as a result of traumatic events. Treatment works and can help you deal with PTSD symptoms.

Coping with Depression

Depression can interfere with relationships, work and the ability to get through the day and it can affect Veterans from all walks of life. Treatment works and can help you deal with depression symptoms.

Understanding Feelings of Guilt

Guilt can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to interfere with your relationships, work, or ability to get through the day. There are steps you can take to get your life on a better track.

Additional Resources

Vet Center logo

Vet Center

Vet Centers are community-based counseling centers across the nation in all 50 states and US territories that provide a wide range of social and psychological services, including counseling to eligible Veterans, service members - including National Guard and Reserve components – and their families. Counselors and outreach specialists, many of whom are Veterans themselves, are experienced and prepared to discuss the tragedies of war, loss, grief, and transition after trauma. To learn more, find your nearest Vet Center. Teams are also available 24/7 by phone at 1-877-927-8387.

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Veterans Crisis Line logo

Veterans Crisis Line

Are you a Veteran in crisis or concerned about one? Connect with the Veterans Crisis Line to reach caring, qualified responders with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Many of them are Veterans themselves. Free support is confidential and available 24/7. Dial 988 then Press 1, chat here or text 838255. If you have hearing loss, call TTY: Dial 711 then dial 988.

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Self-Help Tools

Veterans can access online courses that provide instruction and training in problem-solving, parenting, anger management, sleeping better, managing stress and more.

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