A new report launched today by the University of York and Adfam shows that families of veterans with substance use problems are unlikely to seek or be offered help for themselves, even if a veteran engages with support.

The report, funded by Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), is the first UK study to focus on the experience of families of veterans with substance use problems. It shows the wellbeing of a veteran’s family can be significantly affected by their problem substance use, both during and after leaving the Armed Forces.

The research found that families of veterans with substance use problems reported high levels of mental health problems as well as isolation, loneliness, distress, despair, and hopelessness.

It also found that alcohol was the primary substance use problem for veterans and was linked with the availability of alcohol and its regular and heavy use within the Armed Forces. After service, substance use was associated with the challenges of integrating back into civilian life, ongoing struggles to cope with service experiences, being unable to break the pattern of excessive drinking and not being able to ask for help. A perceived ‘culture of silence’ within the Armed Forces also illustrated how the experiences of families of veterans with substance use problems may differ from non-veteran families and can influence the decision of whether to seek help.

The presence of other problems such as mental health issues, violence, abuse, criminal behaviour, employment and financial difficulties were identified by respondents as complicating and exacerbating how families are affected.

A new flexible, multi-component support model, Family Force, has been developed as part of the research to support families of veterans with substance use problems. It is recommended that this model is implemented, evaluated and then rolled out across support services to ensure these families have access to the support they need.

Ray Lock CBE, Chief Executive of Forces in Mind Trust, says:

“The role of the family in supporting veterans as they transition from the Armed Forces cannot be understated, and this role becomes even more important, and can come at a significant cost to the wellbeing of both a veteran and their family, when they have substance use problems.

“The research team responsible for this study have proposed an excellent model of support that helps both the veteran and the family and I would encourage all those involved in supporting the Armed Forces to look hard at how this model could fit within their own organisations.”

Professor Charlie Lloyd, who led the project from the University of York, says:

“Our study has shown how veterans’ families can be profoundly affected by their loved ones’ drinking and drug problems. Yet they are very unlikely to be offered any help. We have used our research findings to develop a new support model, Family Force, which we call on policymakers and charities to implement and which we believe will provide proper support to these neglected families for the first time.”

Viv Evans OBE, Co-author and CE of the charity Adfam says:

“The challenges that families of veterans with a substance use problem face are extensive and far-reaching. We know from this study that high levels of isolation and loneliness are particularly prevalent, whilst cultural norms associated with the armed forces including the fighting mentality, drinking culture, and culture of silence, impact further on this group of families.

“We believe that evidence-based and targeted support is needed for families in their own right. Our range of recommendations outline how the barriers preventing this group of families accessing support can be overcome and greater awareness and understanding of their experiences can be achieved.”

Lisa Shattock, Director at SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity which was a charity partner for the research, says:

“As an Armed Forces charity and service provider, SSAFA often finds that the families of veterans with substance abuse go unheard or remain silent. Reaching and supporting this group, who traditionally don’t ask for help when they need it, is something we strive to do without prejudice or judgement. We therefore welcome this report highlighting the barriers that exist for families accessing this type of valuable support.

“This study provided a much needed space for families to share their first-hand knowledge of living with substance abuse issues, with participants reporting to us the cathartic benefits of being able to share how these struggles impacted on them as much as their loved ones. For many, this was the first time they had voiced their experiences, which gave these families a sense that they mattered as much as the veteran. The report’s proposed Family Force model continues this recognition of the importance of family, as well as acknowledging the invaluable and vital role they play in healthy, successful transitions into civilian life.

“We look forward to continuing to support the whole of the Forces family when they turn to us for help.”


Notes to editors: 

About the research

Download the report, the executive summary and the support model.

Aims of the research:

1.     To understand the experiences and needs of families of veterans with substance use problems (FVSUs).

2.     To examine how these differ from the families of non-veterans with substance use problems.

3.     To use the findings to develop a new model of support for FVSUs.

About the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT)

Forces in Mind Trust was founded in November 2011 by a £35 million endowment from the Big Lottery Fund (now The National Lottery Community Fund).  As a member of Cobseo – the Confederation of Service Charities and a permanent member of its Executive Committee, the Trust works within the Armed Forces charities sector, and much more widely, to support the UK’s Armed Forces Community.

The mission of FiMT is to enable ex-Service personnel and their families to make a successful and sustainable transition to civilian life. FiMT delivers this mission by generating an evidence base that influences and underpins policy making and service delivery, and by strengthening the Armed Forces charities sector through collaboration and leadership, and by building its capacity.

FiMT’s grants and commissions are designed to generate sustained change that improves the lives of ex-Service personnel and their families. FiMT awards grants to support its Change Model based on seven outcomes: Housing; Employment; Health; Finance; Criminal Justice System; Relationships; and its Enabler programme

Useful links 

Website: www.fim-trust.org

Reports: www.fim-trust.org/reports/

Who we have helped: www.fim-trust.org/what-we-fund/projects-funded

Twitter: @FiMTrust

About the University of York

Find out more about the university: https://www.york.ac.uk/research/

About Adfam

Adfam is the only national charity tackling the effects of alcohol, drug use or gambling on family members and friends. We improve life for thousands of people. Our mission is to do this by:

·       empowering families and friends to get the support they need.

·       building the confidence, capacity and capability of frontline practitioners to provide effective services.

·       influencing decision-makers to understand the needs of thousands of people coping with a family member or friend’s drink, drug or gambling problem


SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, has been providing lifelong support to our Forces and their families since 1885. In 2019, our teams of volunteers and employees helped more than 85,000 people in need, the currently serving (both regulars and reserves), veterans from the Second World War and those who have served in more recent conflicts, as well as their families. SSAFA understands that behind every uniform is a person. And we are here for that person – any time they need us, in any way they need us, for as long as they need us.