Alcohol Abuse Among Veterans

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the veteran population.1 Veterans may abuse 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 abuse 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 abuse 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 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.4,5 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 1 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,3 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 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 abuse can continue long after military service ends, and statistics such as the results of the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, show that alcohol abuse is much higher among veterans compared to the general population.8 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 who were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan are diagnosed with alcohol or drug abuse.10

PTSD and Alcohol Abuse

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.11 Veterans with PTSD may be more vulnerable to alcohol abuse and mental health issues.12

Alcohol Abuse in Veterans: Statistics

Some illuminating facts on the prevalence of alcohol abuse in veterans and military personnel include:1,8,12, 13

  • 22 percent of OEF and OIF veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (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.
  • In veterans, cannabis use disorders increased more than 50% among those treated by in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) system between the years of 2002 to 2009.
  • Increased exposure to trauma, violence, and combat increases military personnel risk of problematic drinking, and veterans diagnosed with PTSD and alcoholism are more likely to binge drink.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) estimates that between 37 and 50 percent of Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans are diagnosed with some form of mental health condition.
  • An average of 20 veterans die from suicide every day.
  • About 8 out of 10 Vietnam veterans seeking PTSD treatment have issues with alcohol abuse.
  • 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.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Alcohol Abuse in Military Personnel & Veterans

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Alcoholism 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 abuse, please consider seeking help today. At American Addiction Centers (AAC), the Salute to Recovery program supports and treats veterans diagnosed with alcohol and drug abuse, 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 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. 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.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Substance use and military life.
  2. Ames GM, Cunradi CB, Duke M, Todd M, Chen MJ. Contributions of work stressors, alcohol, and normative beliefs to partner violenceJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2013;74(2):195–204.
  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. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2019). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health(HHS Publication No. PEP19‑5068, NSDUH Series H‑54).
  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.
  13. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012). Behavioral Health Issues Among Afghanistan and Iraq U.S. War Veterans.
  14. 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.
Last Updated on Dec 15, 2022
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