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Reckless Behavior

Learn more about reckless behavior, treatment options, self-help tools, and resources to overcome challenges.

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 require 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.

The reasons for pursuing reckless behavior differ from person to person and may or may not be directly related to the kinds of dangerous situations someone encountered in the military. Your reckless behavior may seem minor, like not wanting to obey speed limits and traffic lights, or more risky, such as driving extremely fast or picking a fight with people who irritate you. Many people who repeatedly do reckless things are seeking a feeling of excitement. For some people, however, no risky behavior ever seems to be exciting enough — no matter how thrilling the activity.

“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.”

Choosing to engage in reckless behavior affects more people than just you. It can also cause the people you care about to worry, and can be dangerous to yourself and others.

Reckless behavior is different from acting irresponsibly only once in a while. A pattern of reckless behavior may involve the following features:

  • Repeatedly going over the limit in almost any activity
  • Doing risky or hurtful things to yourself or others
  • Putting others at risk
  • Ignoring or not thinking about the potential results of risky activities
  • Not paying attention to others' concerns about your actions
  • Feeling regret after irresponsible actions

What can I do if I’ve noticed myself engaging in reckless behavior?

There are things you can do to prevent yourself from engaging in risky behavior. Try to remember to:

  • Establish periods of downtime, especially if you often 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.
“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.”

Your close friends or family may be the first to notice your reckless behavior. Consider sharing with them what you're feeling and experiencing that leads to this behavior and ask what they've noticed. 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 who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard 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 doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage reckless behavior even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • 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 adviser

Explore these resources for more information about Veterans addressing reckless behavior.

Learn more about other concerns that may occur alongside reckless behavior, such as transitioning from service, stress and anxiety, anger, and posttraumatic stress.