Bill tried going to college after deployment but was unable to focus on school and always felt on edge. Seeking the kind of excitement he experienced in combat, he left college and tried a variety of dangerous professions in an attempt to recapture the thrill.
What is reckless behavior?
Maybe you’ve noticed lately you’re a lot more interested in risky and dangerous activities. Or perhaps you’re pushing things to the extreme, spending large amounts of money on a whim, or not thinking about the consequences of your actions until it’s too late. If this is the case, you may be showing signs of reckless behavior.
Serving in the military, especially if you were in a combat zone, can sometimes mean engaging in a certain amount of risk to stay alive and protect yourself. However, engaging in risky behavior on an ongoing basis—particularly once you’ve returned from deployment or just in order to get an adrenaline rush—can lead to serious injury or death.
“Serving in a combat zone made civilian life kind of boring. When I first got back, I felt like ‘civilian’ rules just didn’t apply to me.”
Reckless or risky behavior is different from person to person and is sometimes directly related to the kinds of dangerous situations someone encountered in the military. No matter the origin, people who do reckless things repeatedly seem to always be looking for excitement. Yet the risky behavior never seems to be exciting enough, no matter how thrilling the activity.
Choosing to engage in reckless behavior affects more people than just you—it can also cause the people you care about to worry. Your reckless behavior may seem minor, like not wanting to obey speed limits and traffic lights, or major, such as driving extremely fast or picking a fight with people who irritate you.
Reckless behavior is different from irresponsible actions that happen only once in a while. It usually happens more frequently than just now and then and may occur as a pattern of behavior with the following features:
“I had this sense of invincibility. But looking back, I see how ridiculous it would have been for me to survive all that time overseas just to come back and hurt or kill myself in some reckless stunt.”
What can I do if I’ve noticed myself engaging in reckless behavior?
“One of the things that helped me the most was recognizing that adrenaline is like an addictive drug for your brain. It can be really hard to go ‘cold turkey’ so it’s important to find a healthy and safe way to gradually come down off of a year of constant thrill, danger, and stress.”
There are things you can do to prevent yourself from engaging in risky behavior. Try to remember to:
- Take some down time for yourself, especially if you feel riled up, overly-excited, or angry
- Take deep breaths when you feel stressed and give yourself a break by relaxing in a peaceful, quiet place
- Plan ahead to avoid situations that might lead to reckless or dangerous behavior—for example, try to leave early or late to avoid rush hour traffic, or arrange for a ride home if you’ll be drinking
- Recognize cycles of reckless behavior and work with your close family and friends to identify and avoid them
- Find safe ways of getting an adrenaline rush in new activities that won’t lead to negative consequences
- Find a way to avoid or get out of potentially risky situations
Your close friends or family may be the first to notice your reckless behavior. It can be useful to share what you’re feeling and experiencing, and they may be able to provide support and help you find resources to address the issues you’re dealing with.
Take the next step – Make the connection.
Every day, Veterans connect with useful resources and effective ways of reducing their reckless behavior. If reckless behavior is affecting your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:
- Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does.
- A mental health professional, such as a therapist
- Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
- A spiritual or religious advisor
Explore these resources for more information about reckless behavior in Veterans.
Learn more about the possible associations between reckless behavior and other concerns such as transitioning from service, stress and anxiety, anger, and posttraumatic stress.
If you are a combat Veteran or experienced any sexual trauma during your military service, bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist—many of whom are Veterans themselves—for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA.
National Center for PTSD
This website provides information, resources, and practical advice for Veterans dealing with trauma.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
This website will allow you to search for VA programs located near you. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s treatment programs.