Two military personnel hiking outdoors, adventure therapy for military service members

Adventure-based therapy programs in drug and alcohol rehab have effectively assisted in treating substance use disorders (SUDs), trauma, PTSD, anxiety disorders, depression, and behavioral issues. Adventure therapy encourages spending time in the great outdoors to take a break from life’s busyness and enjoy nature’s healing power. Nature has a calming, therapeutic effect that helps reduce stress levels, anxiety, and mental exhaustion. For military service members struggling with mental health, participating in adventure therapy has proven beneficial in promoting positive changes in their emotional health.

The Healing Power of Adventure Therapy in Rehab Treatment

Adventure therapy utilizes experiential and adventure-based activities to treat drug and alcohol addiction. These research-proven activities help promote personal growth and development in military personnel struggling with mental health and behavioral challenges. Spending time in nature for military members dealing with post-pandemic stress is especially effective for reducing high stress and anxiety levels. Adventure therapy combines experiential learning, group dynamics, and exposure to nature for an immersive, therapeutic experience.

In adventure therapy in drug rehab, patients participate in rock climbing, kayaking, paddleboarding, canoeing, hiking, camping, swimming, and team-building exercises. Trained therapists carefully structure these activities and guide patients through overcoming obstacles and building resilience. The philosophy of adventure therapy is that engaging in a supportive, therapeutic environment can help improve self-esteem, enhance self-awareness, and develop essential life skills. The adventure-based approach encourages military members to step outside their comfort zones and confront their triggers to develop coping strategies outdoors.

Incorporating physical activity and outdoor experiences in adventure therapy allows military personnel to fully immerse themselves in personal exploration and discover physical and emotional healing.

How Adventure Therapy Benefits Military Service Members

Adventure therapy for military personnel is effective in confronting their unique challenges and finding healing in the outdoors. Active-duty service members (ADSMs) deal with an immense amount of stress and trauma from military service, resulting in mental health disorders, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder (MDD). Spending time in nature allows service members a break from military life and time to decompress and recharge. Following the COVID pandemic, many individuals suffered severe depression and anxiety due to being locked indoors without social interaction. Quarantine was especially triggering for military service members struggling with PTSD, anxiety, or depression and feeling trapped. For those with any mental illness (AMI), the pandemic heightened emotions, side effects, and worsened mental health conditions.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, military service members participated in interviews to research how COVID-19 affected their mental health and well-being. This research reported “…significant pandemic impacts on their well-being, especially loneliness, and sorrow stemming from isolation and disruptions to ordinary routines. Veterans already struggling with chronic mental and physical health conditions and those who experienced transitions or losses during the pandemic described the most severe impacts on their well-being.”

For military personnel seeking post-pandemic healing, spending time in nature and engaging in outdoor activities with peers is a practical, therapeutic method to promote emotional healing. Through outdoor experiences and therapeutic support, adventure therapy takes a holistic approach to address the unique needs of military service members. Here are some of the healing benefits of adventure therapy for military service members:

Trauma Healing

Many military members experience stressful situations and traumatic events during their time in the military. Adventure therapy provides a safe and serene environment to process and heal from unresolved trauma and emotions. Finding healing in nature and participating in challenging outdoor activities helps individuals build resilience and establish healthy coping mechanisms. Adventure therapy promotes the art of slowing down in the busyness of life and allowing yourself to recharge physically and mentally in the great outdoors.

Stress Reduction

Military life can be highly stressful, with deployments, combat exposure, and demanding military duties. Veterans reported increased positive screenings for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) following the pandemic. Adventure therapy offers an escape from everyday stressors to immerse in nature and engage in physically active and enjoyable activities. Spending time in nature can help reduce high-stress levels and boost serotonin and dopamine levels, enhancing overall well-being. Serotonin and dopamine are chemical messengers known as the “happy hormones” responsible for balancing emotions and overall mood.

Teamwork and Camaraderie

Military service prioritizes good teamwork and working effectively with peers. Activities in adventure therapy are often led in a group setting to foster communication and cooperation with others in recovery. Service members can strengthen teamwork skills and trust to improve their ability to collaborate with others. Group activities in drug and alcohol rehab help to create a pillar of support for those in recovery.

Transition and Reintegration Support

Military service members transitioning from active duty to civilian life often face numerous obstacles. Adventure therapy can help ease this transition by providing service members with a structured and supportive environment. Taking part in activities like hiking and canoeing allows space and time for self-reflection and skill development. A quiet, relaxing environment can help service members explore their strengths to build confidence and self-esteem. In doing this, patients can identify and establish effective strategies to navigate reintegration challenges.

Builds Resilience

Adventure therapy helps patients in recovery build resilience, which is crucial for military members facing challenges. Patients can overcome obstacles through group tasks and challenging activities to foster resilience and problem-solving skills. The skills learned in adventure therapy can be valuable in coping with change, managing stress, and conquering difficult situations.

Personal Growth and Empowerment

Adventure therapy offers opportunities for personal growth, self-discovery, and self-empowerment. Spending time outdoors encourages military personnel to reflect on their values and priorities to reconnect with their sense of purpose. Experiential learning and reflection help individuals understand their strengths, values, and identity. Recreational activities can encourage the development of a sense of accomplishment, improve self-esteem, and regain control over their lives.

Seeking treatment for drug or alcohol addiction can be challenging, but taking a courageous step toward reclaiming your life and sobriety can put you on the road to long-term recovery. At Rock Recovery Center, we are here for you every step of the way, providing compassionate support and evidence-based treatment to help you overcome addiction.

Contact Rock Recovery today. Take the first step towards healing and learn more about how our addiction treatment services can assist you on your journey to recovery.




  • National Library of Medicine, 2021. “Then COVID happened…”: Veterans’ Health, Well-being, and Engagement in Whole Health Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • National Library of Medicine, 2021. Mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in U.S. military veterans: a population-based, prospective cohort study.
  • Medical News Today, 2023. Dopamine and serotonin: Brain chemicals explained.