If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net

Talking to a Veteran About Substance Misuse

Tips for starting a conversation with a Veteran about getting help for substance abuse, before substance misuse becomes a crisis.

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Download the "Veterans Dealing With Substance Misuse" Fact Sheet

Use this brief fact sheet to learn more about preventing suicide in Veterans experiencing substance misuse.


Start the Conversation: Talking to a Veteran About Substance Use

Talking to Veterans about their challenges with substance use can be difficult. It’s important to convey who you are concerned and want to help.

The simple act of starting a conversation can be the turning point that encourages a Veteran to get help. Talking with a Veteran who you’re concerned about lets them know you’re here, you care, and you’re ready to listen. 

Opening the Door to a Conversation About Substance Use

Here are some ways you can start a conversation with a Veteran you’re concerned about.

First, focus on your own observations and share your feelings:

  • [For alcohol] "I’ve noticed you’ve been drinking a lot, and I’m wondering if everything is OK."
  • [For alcohol and/or drugs] "I’ve noticed you’ve been acting differently lately, and I’m wondering how you’re doing."
  • "I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed like yourself recently."
  • "I’ve been worried about you lately."

Once you’ve started the conversation, you can begin to ask questions like:

  • "When did you first start feeling like this?"
  • "Did something happen that made you begin to feel this way?"
  • "Have you been drinking and/or using drugs to cope with these feelings?"
  • "Do you feel that drinking and/or using drugs is interfering with your life?"
  • "What can I do to best support you right now?"
  • "Have you thought about getting help?"

Remember: It’s important to listen without judgment. It may be a big step for the Veteran in your life to speak openly about their substance use. Show the Veteran you’re there for them by being supportive and receptive to what they say. Don’t lecture or give the impression that you’re disappointed in the Veteran. Lecturing the Veteran can make them feel guilty or as if they’re a burden to others. 

If at any point in your conversation the Veteran reveals they are planning to seriously harm or to kill themselves, immediately call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, dial 911, or take the Veteran to an emergency room.

How to Help a Veteran Who Is Misusing Substances

Determining how to get the appropriate help for someone who is misusing drugs or alcohol can be a lengthy process. Take the following actions can be an effective way for you to help a Veteran start and stay on the path to recovery: 

  • Seek professional help. Call the Veterans Crisis Line for immediate, confidential support or use the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Resource Locator to find resources, treatment facilities, and VA Suicide Prevention Coordinators in your area. 
  • Be available and encouraging. Dealing with addiction can be extremely difficult, so the Veteran may need someone who can provide consistent reminders that things can and will get better. Be proactive about stopping by, calling, and inviting the Veteran to go out. Avoid statements like “Call me if you need anything” or “Feel free to stop by if you’re having a bad day,” which put too much responsibility on the Veteran and are too vague and open-ended to help them stay connected.
  • Encourage healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating well, getting a good night’s sleep, and spending time in nature. Exercising can also be a great way to help relieve stress and promote mental health.
  • Remove objects that could contribute to a relapse, such as controlled substances, alcohol, cough medicine, or other over-the-counter items with the potential to be misused.