Alcohol Abuse Among Veterans

Last Updated: January 17, 2020

Alcohol is the most common substance abused by veterans.1 Veterans may be abusing alcohol because they are suffering from mental illness, having difficulties adjusting to civilian life, or continued heavy drinking habits acquired before leaving active duty.

The Culture of Alcohol Abuse Within the Military

Many service members in active duty military roles see drinking as part of the culture.2 Drinking alcohol has been historically a reward or a way to connect with fellow servicer members in the military. As a society, many restaurants and bars offer discounted prices for service members.2 Not surprisingly, alcohol use disorders are the most prevalent form of substance abuse among active service members of the military.3

Over the past few years, with more deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, there has been an increase in alcohol consumption, including binge drinking, resulting in alcohol related health issues among service members.4 In a 2010, study a group of 6,527 U.S. Army soldiers underwent an alcohol screening 3-4 months after returned from a deployment to Iraq. The alcohol screening revealed that 27% of the soldiers had recently abused alcohol.5

According to the 2015 Health Related Behaviors Survey report, more than 5% of military personnel across all branches are heavy drinkers – those who consume 5 or more drinks on one occasion,  5 or more days in a month.3 Binge drinking is a serious concern, 1 in 3 active duty service members are binge drinkers, which tends to be more common among military personnel with high combat exposure.6

An alcohol consumption study reviewed a group of 1,100 soldiers who had been part of a infantry team returning from deployment.7 The study found a correlation between combat and alcohol misuse.7 An estimated 25% of those who were sampled were misusing alcohol 3-4 months after deployment.7 Of those, 12% experienced behavioral problems related to their alcohol use.7

Alcohol Abuse Among Veterans

Alcohol abuse can continue long after military service ends, and statistics show that alcohol abuse is much higher among veterans compared to the general population.8 According to results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, veterans are more likely to report heavy use of alcohol during the past month compared to their non-veteran counterparts.1

Another study showed that more than 65% of veterans who entered an addiction treatment program reported alcohol as their primary substance of abuse.9 The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that 1 out of 10 veterans that were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan are diagnosed with a alcohol or drug abuse.10

PTSD and Alcohol Abuse

Many veterans are also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition that occurs when someone has experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event, such as military combat, traumatic injury, of physical abuse. Symptoms of this condition can include flashbacks of the initial trauma, night terrors, anxiety, and depression.11

Statistics related to alcohol use among veterans with PTSD include:12

  • About 8 out of 10 Vietnam veterans seeking PTSD treatment have issues with alcohol abuse.
  • Veterans diagnosed with PTSD and alcoholism are more likely to binge drink.
  • Suicide risk is higher for veterans, age 65 years or older, what are also diagnosed with an alcohol abuse disorder or mental illness, such as depression.

Treatment Options For Veterans

Alcoholism effects a veteran’s health, emotional well-being, personal life, and professional goals. Over time, this debilitating disease will also begin to impact family members, friends, and other loved ones.

If you are a veteran that is struggling with alcohol abuse, please consider seeking help today. At American Addictions Centers (AAC) the Salute to Recovery program supports and treats veterans diagnosed with alcohol and drug abuse, in addition to co-occurring diagnoses.

Our Admissions Navigators are always available to assist you.

Call Now (888) 902- VETS

AAC’s admissions navigators will educate you on what the process looks like and what is needed in order for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to pay for a private facility on your behalf.

They will instruct you to call your local VA office to schedule and complete a mental health consultation. During that consult the VA will determine if they have the resources for your specific needs. If you don’t have insurance or another means to pay for treatment (private pay), you can utilize benefits with the VA to receive care based on availability.

Therapies included in the Salute to Recovery program:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Patients learn how to identify negative thinking patterns, as well as behaviors, to live a healthier and happier life.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Helps patients find resolutions to traumatic events and life experiences.
  • Family Systems Theory: Looking at the family as an emotional unit and exploring its complexity to help veterans find their places in the family unit after service.
  • Pain Management Group: Teaches veterans how to address and deal with pain and physical injuries from military service.


Alcohol addiction is a disease, but with treatment and support recovery is possible. If you or the veteran in your life is abusing substances we encourage you to call our Admission Navigators, (888) 902- VETS, to learn more about our treatment programs.



  1. Teeters, J. B., Lancaster, C. L., Brown, D. G., & Back, S. E. (2017). Substance use disorders in military veterans: prevalence and treatment challenges.Substance abuse and rehabilitation8, 69–77.
  2. Ames G.M., Duke M.R., Moore R.S., Cunradi C.B. The Impact of Occupational Culture on Drinking Behavior of Young Adults in the U.S. Navy. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 2009;3(2):129–150.
  3. Meadows, S.O., Engel, C.C, Collins, R.L, Beckman, R.L., Cefalu, M., & Williams, K.M. (2018). Health Related Behaviors Survey: Substance Use Among U.S. Active-Duty Service Members. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
  4. Spera, C., Thomas R.K., Barlas, F., Szoc, R., Cambridge, M.H. Relationship of military deployment recency, frequency, duration, and combat exposure to alcohol use in the Air ForceJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2011;72(1):5–14.
  5. Santiago, P. N., Wilk, J. E., Miliken, C. S., Castro, C. A., Engel, C. C., & Hoge, C. W. (n.d.). Screening for Alcohol Misuse and Alcohol-Related Behaviors Among Combat VeteransPsychiatric Services61(6), 575–581.
  6. Stahre, M.A., Brewer, R.D., Fonseca, V.P., & Naimi, T.S. (2009). Binge Drinking Among U.S. Active-Duty Military Personnel. (2009). American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 36(3), 208-217.
  7. Seal, K.H., Cohen, G., Waldrop, A., Cohen. B. E., Maguen, S., Ren, L. (2011). Substance use disorders in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in VA healthcare, 2001-2010: Implications for screening, diagnosis and treatmentDrug Alcohol Depend, 115 (1-3): 93-101.
  8. Bohnert, A. S. B., Ilgen, M. A., Bossarte, R. M., Britton, P. C., Chermack, S. T., & Blow, F. C. (n.d.). Veteran Status and Alcohol Use in Men in the United StatesMilitary Medicine177(2), 198–203.
  9. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Veteran’s Primary Substance of Abuse is Alcohol in Treatment Admissions.
  10. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (2019). PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans
  11. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (2019). PTSD.
  12. National Center for PTSD. (2019). PTSD and Problems with Alcohol Use.
Last Updated on January 17, 2020
About the editor
Sarah Hardey
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A Senior Web Content Editor for the American Addiction Centers. Sarah has worked with healthcare facilities across the country to create digital content for readers of all types.