Last Updated: August 30, 2023
Although alcoholism in veterans is a common problem due to stress and trauma related to service, treatment can help veterans recover.
Many military veterans have been exposed to stress and trauma on the job. When they return to civilian life, they may experience lasting negative effects from their time in the service. Some veterans may develop problems with alcohol misuse, but treatment is available to help veterans recover.
Alcohol Abuse and Military Culture
Using alcohol as a coping mechanism can begin due to the normalization of binge drinking in military culture. Research suggests that drinking to bond and cope with stress is ingrained into the military culture, so veterans who abuse alcohol may not realize they have a problem.
Risk Factors for Alcohol Abuse in Veterans
Anyone can develop problems related to alcohol abuse, but veterans are vulnerable to alcohol addiction for several reasons. They may fall victim to binge drinking and alcohol misuse because of military culture or due to the distress that can come with time in the service.
Veterans are at risk of PTSD, which also increases the risk for alcohol addiction since veterans may use alcohol to cope with painful emotions related to PTSD. Veterans who experience many traumatic events during their lifetimes are more vulnerable to developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is the clinical term for alcohol addiction. Furthermore, 55–68% of veterans with PTSD have an AUD, showing that the two conditions are strongly linked.
Military veterans may also use alcohol as a coping mechanism for symptoms of depression. In fact, researchers have found that depression symptoms can motivate veterans to drink to get relief. Over time, a veteran who uses alcohol to self-medicate depression symptoms may drink larger and larger amounts due to the effects of tolerance, resulting in a greater risk of addiction.
Military Sexual Trauma (MST)
Heavy drinking can also become a coping mechanism for military sexual trauma (MST), and veterans who drink to numb their memories may develop alcohol addictions. Research with women who are veterans has found that drinkers are more likely than non-drinkers to have a history of MST.
Impact of Alcohol Addiction on Veterans
Heavy drinking may begin as a coping mechanism for trauma and other forms of mental and emotional distress, but with continued alcohol misuse, veterans are at risk of numerous alcohol-related consequences.
Veterans with AUD are more likely to become homeless due to alcohol misuse. Experiencing six or more months of homelessness is more likely among veterans who abuse alcohol. It can be difficult to stay employed while addicted to alcohol, and all financial resources available to the veteran will likely support the alcohol addiction.
Self-Harm and Suicide
Alcohol abuse and addiction in veterans increases the risk of self-harming and suicidal behavior. Compared to veterans without a history of alcohol addiction, those with an AUD are just over four times as likely to make a suicide attempt at some point during their lives.
Continuing to drink, even when it causes problems in interpersonal relationships, is one of the signs of an AUD. Loved ones may become frustrated by the veteran’s behavior, causing conflict in key relationships. Veterans who are addicted to alcohol will have a difficult time cutting back on drinking, even if it interferes with relationships with their:
Military Veteran Alcoholism Statistics
Statistics on alcohol abuse in the military show how common this problem is. Consider the following findings from research with veterans:
- A nationally representative survey of over 3,000 veterans found that 42.2% had an AUD at some point, and 14.8% showed symptoms of an AUD within the year prior to taking the survey.
- The same study found that younger male veterans were at a higher risk of AUD than other groups.
- Results of another study showed that compared to non-deployed veterans, Gulf War veterans were 33% more likely to have an AUD, and Iraq/Afghanistan veterans were 36% more likely to have an AUD.
Help for Military Veterans Struggling With Alcoholism
The Recovery Village Columbus provides services for veterans looking for alcohol addiction treatment. We offer a full range of treatment services, including:
- Inpatient care
- Partial hospitalization programming
- Intensive outpatient
- Standard outpatient services
We are part of the VA Community Care Network and offer a specialty track for veterans and first responders. Visit our webpage today to verify your insurance, or contact our Recovery Advocates to begin the admissions process.
FAQs on Alcohol Addiction Amongst Veterans
Does the VA consider alcoholism a disability?
Veterans who are injured or ill due to their military service or experiencing worsening health conditions while in the service can be eligible for disability benefits through the VA. To become eligible, you must show documentation of the disability and file a claim for disability compensation. Mental health conditions that may qualify a veteran to receive disability benefits include:
If you experience an alcohol use disorder with PTSD from your service, you may be eligible for benefits, but veterans aren’t generally eligible for disability benefits based on alcohol use alone. Contact the VA for more information.
What are the most common causes of alcoholism for veterans?
Some common causes of alcohol use disorder (AUD) in veterans include PTSD, depression, the stress associated with military careers and the military culture, which normalizes binge drinking.
What are some signs and symptoms of alcohol misuse in veterans?
The symptoms of alcohol misuse in veterans align with what is typically seen in people with AUD. These include:
- Strong alcohol cravings
- Being unable to cut back on drinking, despite wanting to do so
- Spending a large amount of time drinking or recovering from being drunk
- Giving up other activities in favor of alcohol use
- Continuing to drink, even when it causes problems in important relationships or interferes with work performance
- Continued alcohol use, despite alcohol causing or worsening health problems
- Drinking large amounts of alcohol
- Showing withdrawal side effects like tremors or headaches when not drinking
- Developing a tolerance so that larger amounts of alcohol are required to achieve the same effects
- Drinking in dangerous situations, such as before driving
How does alcoholism impact veterans?
Alcohol use and addiction have negative effects on veterans. While they may begin drinking to cope with mental health problems, over time, alcohol misuse worsens mental health. Being addicted to alcohol comes with many consequences, including:
- Strained relationships
- Financial issues
- Increased risk of suicide
What barriers to treatment for alcohol addiction do veterans deal with?
Addiction treatment is essential for veterans with AUD, but many experience barriers to seeking care. These include:
- Being emotionally unprepared to enter treatment
- Feeling that treatment isn’t needed
- Hesitation to talk to someone
- Fear of being labeled
- Getting in trouble and lacking time to seek care
Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.