Discover more from The Daily Draft
From War to Struggle
Addressing the Alarming Connection Between Veteran Suicide and Addiction
If you've served in the military, you know that coming home isn't always as simple as leaving the battlefield. Many veterans face challenges when transitioning back to civilian life, whether finding employment, reconnecting with family, or simply adjusting to a new routine.
The issues I faced had nothing to do with the blood, body parts, stress, or absence in my family’s life, as I could compartmentalize those.
I struggled with addiction, an issue amplified in the service and damn near doubled down on when I separated, and my brothers carried on without me.
Unfortunately, veterans face devastating cycles of addiction and suicide, leading to them losing their life at home after the enemy could not take it overseas.
To those who served and the loved ones of Veterans who’ve returned, if you are struggling, know that you are not alone, and there is nothing weak about seeking help.
Finding Help and Support
A 2020 Department of Veterans Affairs report found that an average of 17 veterans die by suicide each day. That number has since increased, which is an unfortunate reality we’re living in; things aren’t getting better…
A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that veterans with substance use disorders had a significantly higher risk of suicide than those without such disorders. This connection highlights the need for more resources and support for veterans struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
I was a Veteran struggling with alcohol, and I have since found my way to sober living. I can say with certainty after 998 days of this piece being published (almost at the 4-digit mark), sober living is the best way to live. But here’s the thing, I was an addict before the military, so the Navy did not create this issue; it fed it to grow stronger. My issues stemmed from childhood; alcohol was a way to cope. I’ll go on a limb and say, for many Veterans, the issues from service compound an issue that already existed.
Vets use alcohol or drugs to cope with their experiences and trauma; that substance abuse exacerbates pre-existing mental health issues, making it harder to find a way out of the downward spiral. Additionally, the unique challenges of being a veteran, such as financial instability or difficulty accessing healthcare, can add to the stress and hopelessness, contributing to suicidal thoughts.
Going from being told what to wear and when to be where while having guaranteed income+healthcare and knowing your housing will be covered to not having any of those things is a shock to the mind.
There’s Always Hope
As I shared, from binge drink for two decades to almost hitting 1,000 days sober, I’m in the boat of “If I can do this, anyone can”. I was in rough shape for a long while, but I never quit, and that mentality often exhibited in military minded-folks is a strength we can lean on to get through this mental battle. I decided I’d built a life with too much to lose, and sobriety followed - now it’s your turn.
There are countless resources available to veterans struggling with addiction and suicidal ideation. The VA provides various services, including treatment for substance use disorders and mental health conditions and programs focusing on suicide prevention. Many community-based organizations and nonprofits also offer support for veterans and their families. Most important is the lateral support available; there are other Vets who want nothing more than to offer support to their fellow brothers and sisters in arms. Your strength to ask for help is a gift to these people; I know because I’m one of them.
Another organization is Warriors Heart, a treatment center specifically focused on helping veterans and first responders overcome addiction and PTSD. Their approach combines traditional therapies with holistic treatments like yoga, meditation, and equine therapy. These types of therapies help veterans reconnect with themselves and their emotions in a safe, supportive environment. This is an area that I struggle to provide to those seeking assistance. I do not have a “brick & mortar” facility to connect vets with one another in person. I’d love to build it at some point, but for now, you will have to use those available resources.
It's important to repeat that seeking help for addiction and mental health issues isn't a sign of weakness or failure and doesn't undermine the sacrifices made while serving. There was a time when I felt like I should never complain or take any VA services because I was not a grunt or SpecOps/SpecWar, as I felt they were “boots on the ground” and so who was I to have any issues? I’ve since realized that acknowledging and addressing these issues can be an incredibly empowering choice. as it shows a dedication to self-care and a commitment to a healthier future.
The best way I can continue to serve my country is by being a strong, healthy, addiction-free American.
If you're a veteran struggling with addiction or suicidal thoughts, know you're not alone. There are countless others who have been in your shoes, and a network of support is waiting to help. Breaking the devastating cycle of veteran suicide and addiction starts with taking that first step toward recovery.
- Zachary Small
If you want to buy my next cup of coffee as a thank you for the continued delivery of quality content, you may do so using the link below: