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How 12-Step Recovery Helps Veterans Struggling With Addiction

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Substance use is common among veterans due to the unique stress of their military experience, which often includes trauma. However, veterans can get help to heal from addiction and mental health disorders. The path of 12-Step recovery can help provide structure and support for veterans both while in treatment and afterward. It can help veterans to connect with others who are also struggling and remain sober throughout challenges that occur on the path to long-term recovery. While the way is not easy, 12-Step groups and practices help veterans struggling with addiction.

Prevalence of Addiction in Veterans

Alcohol and drug addiction are common among veterans, and veterans experience substance use disorder (SUD) more than the general population. According to the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, it’s believed that the prevalence of addiction in veterans results from a combination of factors. These include environmental stressors specific to military members such as deployments, exposure to combat, and the challenge of reintegrating upon their return home.

However, addiction can also be a result of mental health issues related to the stress and trauma experienced in the military. Many veterans struggle with a range of mental health challenges that include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. Due to these mental health disorders, many veterans turn to drugs or alcohol to feel normal and get through their day. However, this can quickly turn into physical dependency.

What Is 12-Step Recovery?

12-Step recovery is a path people can take to recover from addiction. It can be a part of a treatment program and used as a process after treatment. The goal of the Twelve Steps is to create and maintain change. 12-Step recovery is the foundation of peer support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), which are both peer support groups.

Peer support groups are a vital aspect of 12-Step recovery. In a 12-Step peer support group, individuals have the opportunity to share their struggles and hear about other people’s situations. These groups are based on the concept that individuals can help each other to stay on track and remain sober. The foundation of these peer support meetings is spirituality. This includes surrendering to a higher power and accepting the powerlessness of addiction.

How 12-Step Recovery Helps Veterans Heal

The experience of recovery is different for each individual. However, connecting with 12-Step recovery both in and after treatment can be incredibly helpful for veterans wanting to heal from addiction. Through peer support, veterans can improve communication skills and connect with others. Additionally, 12-Step recovery can help veterans by supporting personal growth.

Peer Support

While in the military, individuals often work in a team environment. This means receiving support and spending time with others who have similar goals and roles in the military. However, as veterans, much of this community and support is gone. 12-Step peer support meetings are a great way for veterans to get support from others with similar goals.

Finding peer support through 12-Step recovery looks different for each person. While some may benefit from sharing, others will only listen. Regardless of how veterans choose to participate, peer support can help in many ways. First, it provides a sense of community. Additionally, it gives veterans a place to talk about their struggles with addiction in a safe and supportive environment. Both of these help veterans to stick to recovery when things get tough.

Personal Growth

Recovery is a process of personal growth. This includes spiritual, emotional, and mental changes. However, growth is very challenging. 12-Step recovery programs make this growth easier. The primary goal of these programs is to complete a shift that helps individuals live different lives. Therefore, as a program, it supports veterans to change.

For veterans who are recently out of treatment and/or the military, there will be many changes. This might include a new job or a different schedule along with the changes due to recovery. Finding support through 12-Step recovery will help them to take necessary steps with encouragement and empathy from peers. While it might not seem like much, this can be enough to get veterans through moments of doubt.


12-Step recovery is based on the Twelve Steps. Therefore, it is a highly structured program that leads individuals through the process of healing from addiction, taking responsibility, and making changes that are necessary for maintaining sobriety. While the steps will look slightly different for each person, 12-Step programs provide a basic framework that guides individuals through a sequence of actions. These steps will be supported by peers in the program.

This structure can be a welcome thing for veterans. For veterans, having structure is familiar. Many veterans might struggle with the lack of structure in the civilian world. Therefore, the structure of 12-Step recovery can help relieve stress and provide a sense of normalcy. When veterans struggle with addiction, the Twelve Steps provide a clear direction for how to make necessary changes.

Many veterans struggle with mental health challenges and addiction. Fortunately, there are options for them to learn new skills, heal from addiction, and integrate into civilian life as a veteran. At Pacific Sands Recovery Center, we offer treatment that includes 12-Step recovery. Our program works with veterans by providing individualized care that helps them to heal from trauma, addiction, and other mental health challenges. If you or someone you love is a veteran struggling with sobriety, we can help. We work with TRICARE and TriWest to help veterans to get the help they need. To learn more about our programs or speak to a staff member about how to get help, call us today at (714) 492-1119.


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    Andrew N.
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