You are here:

Contact us

Substance Misuse Self-Help Guide

Developed by the Clinical team at Combat Stress

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6

It will take ~10 minutes to work through Section One

Substance Misuse: What is it?

Many veterans have been though very hard and traumatic experiences during their service in the military. Turning to any form of substance misuse is often a coping mechanism to the trauma.

These images were created by veterans during art therapy as part of their recovery journey.
They've been shared to raise awareness and to help others understand.

Using illicit substances or overusing medication

Use of substances varies from illicit drugs, alcohol, opiates, overuse of prescribed medication as well as overuse of ‘over the counter’ medicines. Unfortunately using illicit drugs or overuse of medication can, depending on the substance used, lead to worsening of symptoms such as anxiety, low mood, poor sleep poor motivation. Perhaps you, a friend or relative has noticed some of these symptoms becoming worse.

If you are overusing medications or using illicit substances – here are some questions you might ask yourself:

  • Have you noticed you are feeling less motivated to wash, dress, eat, exercise, engage with others?
  • Are you feeling more irritable and anxious?
  • Has anyone else commented that you are becoming angry, having outbursts or lack of empathy?
  • Do you feel you are not accomplishing anything day to day?
  • Have you notice you have difficulty in concentrating?
  • Do you crave for a drug?
  • Are you hiding your use?
  • Are you using your prescribed medication in higher daily amounts and then finding yourself short before your next collection date and having to phone up and get more?

Finding your way to this page demonstrates your desire and motivation to understand and to take the steps necessary to stop taking drugs or get your prescribed medication back in control. By following the strategies and tips in these pages you are taking an important first step toward more control.

How can drugs affect you?

Self-medicating with illicit drugs or using prescribed drugs more than advised may lead to escalation of the symptoms. The symptoms of depression, anxiety and/or insomnia tend to become worse after use because of the biological processes in the brain are put off balance meaning that the initial high is followed by a long time low in the recovery period.

Examples of negative effect of substance misuse include:

  • having sleep problems - for example you may struggle with falling asleep or waking up a lot during the night. Substance abuse in this situation can alter the quality of sleep and disturb daily functioning
  • feelings of anger, irritation, or feeling numb or/and depressed - the use of substance misuse can increase these symptoms
  • struggling to concentrate and be productive

Drugs affect three primary areas of the brain - this means the symptoms already being felt can be dampened or heightened. This can muddle your thoughts and it can be hard to maintain clear thinking to solve even relatively simple problems.

Why might veterans use illicit substances or overuse prescribed/non-prescribed medication?

Although substance misuse in service life does occur, the routine, the safety element of the job and the frequency of compulsory drug testing means it is probably far less prevalent in those who serve than those in civilian life.

However, in civilian life drugs/medications may seem useful to veterans in a number of ways. For instance, some veterans may turn to drugs/medications to:

  • Ease their symptoms from a trauma they experienced during their military life or other life experiences.
  • Help sleep, deal with loneliness or help anxiety.
  • Try and fit in with civilian life.
  • Feel confident.
  • Feel the positive excitement and rush they may have experienced at times while serving.
  • Manage physical or psychological pain.

Further reasons include:

  • feeling they cannot speak to anyone about their trauma or experience, or feel they cannot go back to the GP if the medication has stopped working or hasn’t worked
  • for some veterans, social pressure may be a factor

Due to the addictive nature of the majority of illicit drugs and prescribed medication coupled with what feels like a positive outcome for the veteran, the use which starts off as a quick fix for the veteran to ease symptoms can quickly get out of control, having a negative effect for the veteran.

Remember, you should never stop using illicit drugs or prescribed medication without medical advice and should always seek medical advice.

Was this page useful?

Is there someone I can call and talk to?

Our Helpline is open 24/7, please do not hesitate to call if you need someone to talk to or any guidance.

Combat Stress 24/7 Free Helpline 0800 138 1619.

If you require more urgent help, either yourself or a member of your family feel unsafe, please contact your GP or telephone 111.