Alcohol Misuse Among Veterans

3 min read · 6 sections

Alcohol is the most commonly misused substance in the Veteran population.1 Veterans may misuse alcohol because they are suffering from mental illness or having difficulties adjusting to civilian life after deployment. Luckily, various means of professional help exist for Veterans looking to recover from alcohol use disorders and other substance misuse issues.

The Culture of Alcohol Abuse Within the Military

Many service members in active-duty military roles see drinking as part of their culture, and service members are more likely to misuse alcohol than civilians.1

Drinking alcohol can serve as a means to connect with fellow service 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 misuse among active service members of the military.3

Over the past several 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.4,5 According to the 2018 Health Related Behaviors Survey report, nearly 10% of military personnel across all branches are heavy drinkers—those who consume 5 or more drinks on 1 occasion, 5 or more days in a month.3 Binge drinking is a serious concern. More than 1 in 3 active-duty service members are binge drinkers, which tends to be more common among military personnel with high combat exposure.3,6

An alcohol consumption study reviewed a group of 1,100 soldiers who had been part of an 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 misuse can continue long after military service ends. A study showed that more than 65% of Veterans who entered an addiction treatment program reported alcohol as their primary substance of misuse.8 The VA reports that 1 out of 10 Veterans who were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan are diagnosed with alcohol or drug misuse.9

PTSD and Alcohol Misuse

Many Veterans are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in tandem with an alcohol use disorder. PTSD is a mental health condition that occurs when someone has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or life-threatening event, such as military combat, traumatic injury, or physical abuse. Symptoms of this condition can cause flashbacks of the traumatic event, night terrors, anxiety, and depression.10 Veterans with PTSD may be more vulnerable to alcohol misuse and mental health issues.11

Alcohol Misuse in Veterans: Statistics

Some illuminating facts on the prevalence of alcohol misuse in Veterans and military personnel include:1,11-14

  • Twenty-two percent of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans with PTSD also have an SUD.8
  • Deployment in the military is associated with starting smoking, unhealthy drinking, drug use, and risky behaviors.
  • Rates of binge drinking in those who are deployed are rather high compared to the general population.
  • Cannabis use has increased among Veterans. In 2014, 9% of U.S. Veterans reported cannabis use in the past year. By 2020, the prevalence of use in the past 6 months among Veterans was nearly 12%—and it was 20% among Veterans aged 18-44.
  • Exposure to trauma, violence, and combat increases military personnel’s risk of problematic drinking, and Veterans diagnosed with PTSD and alcohol use disorder are more likely to binge drink.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) estimates that between 37% and 50% of Afghanistan and Iraq War Veterans are diagnosed with some form of mental health condition.
  • An average of 17 Veterans die from suicide every day.
  • About 8 out of 10 Vietnam Veterans seeking PTSD treatment have issues with alcohol misuse.
  • Suicide risk is higher for Veterans, aged 18-34.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Alcohol Misuse in Military Personnel and Veterans

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Alcohol use disorder affects 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 who is struggling with alcohol misuse, please consider seeking help today. At AAC, the Salute to Recovery program supports and treats Veterans diagnosed with alcohol and drug misuse, in addition to co-occurring diagnoses, such as depression and PTSD.

Therapies used in the Salute to Recovery program include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Patients learn how to identify negative thinking patterns, as well as behaviors, to live a healthier, substance-free 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 misusing substances, we encourage you to call our admission navigators, (888) 902- VETS, to learn more about our treatment programs. Watch a real testimonial from a Veteran that attended treatment at one of our rehab facilities.

Ways to Get in Contact With Us

If you believe you or someone you love may be struggling with addiction, let us hear your story and help you determine a path to treatment. A number of our facilities work directly with the VA healthcare system as a VA community care provider. Some of our facilities also accept TRICARE insurance as well.

There are a variety of confidential, free, and no obligation ways to get in contact with us to learn more about treatment.

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