Updated on February 6, 2024
5 min read

Veteran Alcohol Treatment

Veterans and Alcohol Abuse

It can take years for military veterans to adjust to civilian life after service. Unfortunately, many don't receive the support they need after their time in the service.

Veterans are more likely to develop an alcohol addiction or other mental illnesses. This is especially true for those who were on active duty.1

When these issues overlap, they can create stressful situations for military veterans. In some cases, they might use alcohol to cope with their problems or self-medicate.1

Veteran Drug and Alcohol Addiction Statistics

Approximately 20% of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder also struggle with SUD. Research shows a relationship between mental health issues, especially PTSD, and alcohol use.1,2

Here are some relevant statistics for mental illnesses and substance use:1,4,5,6

  • About a third who survive traumatic accidents, illness, or disasters report drinking problems
  • Three-quarters of people who survive violent, traumatic events develop problems with alcohol
  • Almost 25% of veterans with PTSD also have SUD
  • Nearly one out of every three vets receiving treatment for SUD has a co-occurring diagnosis of PTSD
  • Approximately 10% of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and receive medical services at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) struggle with alcohol or other substances
  • More than 60% of people with AUD also have depression
  • 20% of people with anxiety also misuse alcohol or have alcohol dependence
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Causes of Veteran Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

There are several reasons why military veterans have a higher risk for drug or alcohol addiction. They may use alcohol to cope with mental disorders they developed during or after military service.2

Factors that influence alcohol addiction among veterans include:2

  • Combat trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Sexual trauma
  • Availability and cost of prescription medication
  • Homelessness

Veterans who experienced combat also tend to binge drink with more frequency. Binge drinking is consuming four or five drinks or more within a few hours. This often leads to alcohol addiction. 

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Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

AUD affects all veterans regardless of rank, age, or gender. Knowing the symptoms can help you understand AUD and when to seek treatment.

Symptoms include: 

  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, nausea, and shaking
  • Feeling irritable or hostile toward others
  • Drinking alone or hiding alcohol consumption
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, as well as personal and professional goals
  • Engaging in high-risk behaviors after drinking alcohol

Veterans Alcohol Treatment Services

If you’re struggling with substance use disorders, you can reach out to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. They offer plenty of resources and programs to help veterans seeking treatment.7

The VA can help you maintain your physical and mental health to help you adjust to civilian life. These programs include:7

  • Medically managed detoxification
  • Medication-assisted treatment and newer medicines to reduce cravings 
  • Nicotine replacement or other medicines for stopping tobacco use
  • Self-help groups
  • Residential or live-in care
  • Continuing care and relapse prevention 

There are also special programs for veterans with specific concerns, such as:7

  • Female veterans
  • Returning combat veterans
  • Homeless veterans

Find out more about the VA health care system, find your local VA, or call their hotline at https://www.va.gov/

Available Treatment Programs for Veterans

Aside from Veterans Affairs, there are also other public and private treatment providers. These treatment programs provide alcohol and drug rehab, specifically for military veterans.7 

Contact your general healthcare provider if you’re struggling with substance use disorders. They’ll recommend treatment facilities or rehabilitation programs that fit your needs.7

These treatment programs include:

  • Medical detox: Medically supervised detox used to avoid harmful withdrawal effects
  • Inpatient treatment: Involves checking yourself into a rehab facility for 24-hour medical supervision 
  • Outpatient treatment: A treatment program where you’re freely allowed to leave the rehab facility
  • Dual diagnosis treatment: A treatment program that addresses co-occurring mental health conditions alongside addiction
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): A short-term therapy technique that explores the link between thought patterns and addiction
  • Group and individual therapy: Addiction therapies that involve understanding the root of the addiction and how to manage triggers
  • Medication-assisted treatment: Involves using medication, counseling, and therapy to treat addiction
  • 12-step programs: A support group designed to help guide you through the recovery process and maintain sobriety
  • Support groups: Provide a much-needed community to help maintain sobriety after treatment

Many of these treatment options focus on the challenges faced by military personnel. Ongoing maintenance and support are needed to manage AUD and dual diagnosis.

What is a Co-Occurring Disorder

A co-occurring disorder is when someone has a substance use disorder (SUD) alongside a mental illness. This is also referred to as a dual diagnosis

Co-occurring disorders can be difficult to treat because substance use and mental illness feed into each other. Because of this, you must treat both issues together for a successful recovery.

Unfortunately, substance use in veterans is a common problem among military veterans. The good news is that veteran alcohol treatment works provide help and support.

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Summary

Veterans may experience substance use disorders after returning from military service. This can lead to a dual diagnosis, a condition where they have substance use and mental health problems.

They often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope or self-medicate. This is due to traumatic experiences and a lack of medical support.

Fortunately, there are programs to help veterans with drug and alcohol addiction. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can help you readjust to civilian life.

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Updated on February 6, 2024

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