Understanding How Addiction Affects Military Families

Time spent as a soldier can cause countless people to experience a number of unique challenges. These challenges impact their mental well-being and affects military families as well. Unfortunately, some of these challenges lead to addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions, affecting military families just as much as the individual struggling to recover, which NorthStar Transitions can help with. 

Many assume addiction and mental illness only affect the people who enlist in the military. However, over time, the whole family will begin experiencing the consequences of addiction. For example, a military spouse may also start using substances to cope with missing their loved one, the stress of living in a new place, or the uncertainty of knowing if their loved one will return home. Children can also struggle. Learning how addiction affects military families can help prepare yourself and your family for the potential consequences. 

Unique Challenges Faced by Individuals in the Military

Deciding to join the military and serve your country is admirable and courageous, and most people doing so know that it does not come without challenges. These men and women experience physical, emotional, and mental challenges. The cumulative challenges cause strain and tension and severely impact the overall well-being of these individuals. 

Some of these challenges may include: 

  • Concerns about safety and hostile environments 
  • Difficulty being away from friends, a spouse, children, or other loved ones 
  • Physical demands of being a solider in war zones or unsafe and potentially harmful environments
  • Experiencing death and, as a result, many complex emotions 
  • The potential development of mental health conditions due to trauma experienced during deployments 

Many individuals in the military experience trauma and mental illness. But how do they cause short and long-term effects on soldiers and military families?

How Trauma and Mental Illness Affects Military Families

When people experience distressing events – natural disasters, the death of a loved one, or war conflicts – they react in many different ways. These stressful and frightening events are often called trauma which can cause mental and physical distress. 

Unaddressed trauma can lead to the development of many mental health conditions in soldiers. Ultimately, military families will also be impacted by these circumstances. As is, military families struggle when their loved one is deployed. This can cause children and spouses to experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles. However, upon a loved one returning, the trauma and mental health conditions they experience can also impact the family. 

Many soldiers on active duty or returning home from deployment may develop mental health conditions. However, there is one that seems to be most common in soldiers who have returned home. If untreated, this condition can wreak havoc on soldiers and military families and pave the road to further problems with mental health and substance use. This condition is known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction

One of the most common mental health conditions soldiers experience is PTSD. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes PTSD as a disorder that “develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” As mentioned, we naturally respond to distressing events in many ways. Fear often enacts a fight-or-flight response in us, and it is not uncommon to have troubling coping sometimes after an event. However, with PTSD, individuals experience symptoms that prevent them from functioning daily.

If untreated, the symptoms of PTSD can lead individuals toward harmful behaviors like substance use. These people begin using drugs and alcohol to cope with their symptoms, but ultimately, this is counterproductive. This can quickly lead to substance use disorder (SUD) and requires individuals to seek treatment for both SUD and PTSD simultaneously. 

Unfortunately, families become impacted by PTSD and SUD too. Symptoms may cause a loved one to isolate themselves or lose interest in spending time with their families upon their return. People with PTSD also experience nightmares and flashbacks. Flashbacks can become so intense that they pose a physical threat to themselves and others because they believe they are back in combat and fighting for their lives. 

Such experiences can be traumatizing to spouses and children. This distress can cause or worsen mental health conditions. However, treatment can help all individuals recover from the trauma and restore function to the family unit. 

How Addiction Affects Military Families

People typically view military life from the perspective of the soldier. However, behind every soldier is a family. That family is most likely trying to cope with their absence and the challenges that often accompany life after time served. 

While soldiers may develop PTSD and SUD, a spouse is susceptible to struggling with addiction too. The pressure of managing children alone or worrying about the well-being of your spouse is mentally and emotionally taxing. It is not uncommon for a spouse to use substances to cope with these complex emotions.  

At NorthStar Transitions, we offer more than treatment for military families. We can teach healthy coping mechanisms to help you manage the unique challenges of military life.

Members of the military experience unique challenges. Life after service can be difficult to adjust to and even cause a person to experience problems with their mental health. One of the most significant mental health conditions that people in the military experience is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can become so intense that a person uses drugs and alcohol to cope with symptoms. That can quickly turn to addiction and affects military families. It is also not uncommon for people to struggle with addiction because they have used substances to cope with the challenges of being a military spouse. In either case, treatment is available. Call NorthStar Transitions at (303) 558-6400 today to learn more about our military treatment.

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