Why Veterans Need Long-Term Care for Addiction Treatment

3 min read · 4 sections

Members of the military go through some very tough and traumatic experiences while deployed, oftentimes leaving these men and women with physical and psychological scars that last well beyond their years of service. Many veterans may self-medicate or turn to substances in an attempt to cope with their issues. 

Unfortunately, substance abuse among veterans often turns into full-blown addiction. Long-term care coordinated by a professional addiction specialist will help to ensure that veterans receive the help for their substance abuse problems that they need and deserve. 

Substance Abuse Prevalence Among Veterans

Substance abuse is a significant problem among our nation’s military veterans, with more than 1 in 10 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan having been diagnosed with a substance use disorder.1 Although alcohol and tobacco are the most commonly misused substances among all veterans, the abuse of prescription drugs is a rising concern among young veterans.2 

Many of those who have been treated with powerful narcotic pain medications for injuries sustained during their service will become dependent on these drugs. Such addictions can be very dangerous, as demonstrated by the recent increases in overdose fatalities among veterans taking prescription opioids.3 Some stats associated with substance abuse among veterans include:1-2 

  • 10.5% of male veterans have an alcohol use disorder 
  • 4.8% of male veterans have a drug use disorder 
  • 38% of male veterans aged 18-25 used illicit drugs within the past year 
  • 18% of male veterans aged 18-25 abused prescription drugs within the past year
  • 4.8% of female veterans have an alcohol use disorder
  • 2.4% of female veterans have a drug use disorder
  • 29% of female veterans aged 18-25 used illicit drugs within the past year 
  • 14% of female veterans aged 18-25 abused prescription drugs within the past year
  • Veterans with PTSD and depression are 3 to 4.5 times more likely to have a substance use disorder

Although the overall prevalence of substance abuse among veterans is lower than that of the general population, a recent study found that the rate of alcohol and drug abuse among males aged 18–25 years is higher in veterans compared to civilians.2 

The Relationship Between PTSD and Substance Abuse

Many veterans have a hard time readjusting to life out of the military due to the lingering symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a debilitating condition that occurs after experiencing severe trauma or a life-threatening event. PTSD and substance abuse often co-occur, and more than a quarter of all veterans with PTSD under the care of the VA have also been diagnosed with a substance use disorder.4 When only considering the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 60% of veterans diagnosed with an alcohol or drug use disorder also have a diagnosis of PTSD.1 

Veterans with a PTSD diagnosis are more likely to receive a prescription for an opioid or sedative hypnotic.5 Research also suggests that veterans with PTSD or other mental health disorders are more likely to develop an opioid addiction and experience adverse clinical outcomes such as emergency room admissions, opioid-related accidents, and overdoses.6 

Treatment Options

Due to drastic lifestyle changes upon entering civilian life and ongoing struggles with PTSD and other mental health conditions, many veterans have a difficult time coping on their own. If you are a veteran suffering from a drug, alcohol, or prescription drug addiction, please know that help is available

Like many other veterans with substance abuse problems, the first step you may need to take is to acknowledge the need for help. According to a recent study, while approximately 70% of veterans with a substance abuse disorder do not receive treatment, only 5.4% actually report needing and not receiving treatment.7  

There are many levels and types of treatment options available, although treatment programs involving long-term care are often most beneficial to veterans. Many professional rehab centers offer comprehensive treatment programs tailored to the specific needs of veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs also offers many substance abuse treatment programs to veterans free of charge. 

For many veterans, especially those suffering from alcoholism or opioid addiction, a round-the-clock medically supervised detoxification will be necessary to address any harmful symptoms that may arise during withdrawal. The next phase of rehabilitation will likely involve a residential or partial hospitalization treatment program. 

Many veterans will require a specialized, comprehensive treatment approach for addressing co-occurring disorders such as alcohol and drug abuse, depression, and PTSD. Following the successful completion of treatment, participation in aftercare programs (counseling, therapy, and sober living housing) can help veterans remain healthy, sober, and free from relapse. 


  1. 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 treatment. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 116(1-3), 93-101.
  2. Hoggatt, K.J., Lehavot, K., Krenek, M., Schweizer, C.A., & Simpson, T.  (2017). Prevalence of substance misuse among US veterans in the general population. The American Journal on Addictions, 26(4), 357–365.
  3. Wilder, C.M., Miller, S.C., Tiffany, E., Winhusen, T., Winstanley, E.L., & Stein, M.D. (2016). Risk factors for opioid overdose and awareness of overdose risk among veterans prescribed chronic opioids for addiction or pain. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 35(1), 42-51.
  4. National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. (2019). Understanding PTSD and Substance Use.
  5. Seal, K.H., Shi, Y., Cohen, G., Cohen, B.E., Maguen, S., Krebs, E.E., & Neylan, T.C. (2012). Association of mental health disorders with prescription opioids and high-risk opioid use in US veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Journal of the American Medical Association, 307(9), 940-947.
  6. Bohnert, A.S., Ilgen, M.A., Trafton, J.A., Kerns, R.D., Eisenberg, A., Ganoczy, D., & Blow, F.C. (2014). Trends and regional variation in opioid overdose mortality among Veterans Health Administration patients, fiscal year 2001 to 2009. The Clinical Journal of Pain, 30(7), 605-612.
  7. Boden, M.T., & Hoggatt, K.J. (2018). Substance Use Disorders Among Veterans in a Nationally Representative Sample: Prevalence and Associated Functioning and Treatment Utilization. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 79(6), 853-861.
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