Stigma makes many veterans reluctant to admit that they are struggling, but problems with drug and alcohol abuse are quite common among those who’ve served our country. However, there are a number of resources available to help veterans begin their recovery journey.
Why Veterans Are Vulnerable to Substance Abuse
In veterans, substance abuse is often linked to PTSD from combat. Consider the following statistics from the US Department of Veterans Affairs:
- About 10% of soldiers recently returning from Iraq or Afghanistan struggle with drug or alcohol abuse.
- War veterans with PTSD and alcohol problems tend to binge drink at high rates. Binge drinking refers to consuming four to five drinks or more in a short period of time—typically one to two hours.
- More than 20% of veterans with PTSD also have a substance use disorder.
- One in three veterans seeking treatment for a substance use disorder also meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.
In addition to PTSD, other factors that place veterans at risk of developing substance use disorders include:
- Chronic pain due to injuries suffered in service
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Losing a close friend in combat
- Not having strong relationships with supportive friends and family
- Previous mental health issues such as depression
Women are the fastest-growing group of veterans and face unique risks related to their military service. Female veterans are twice as likely to have PTSD or experience other mental health issues related to their service. One in five female veterans has experienced rape, assault, or other sexual trauma—which creates further barriers to treatment.
Although substance use disorders can affect people of all ages, younger veterans appear to have the highest rates of drug or alcohol addiction. One report found that almost one in four veterans age 18 to 25 meets the criteria for a substance use disorder. This is more than double the rate of veterans ages 26 to 54 and five times the rate of veterans age 55 or older.
Understanding what factors lead to the development of a veteran’s substance use disorder is crucial because these issues must be addressed to prevent relapse. For example, if a veteran is self-medicating with drugs and alcohol to cope with PTSD-related anxiety, nightmares, and flashbacks, treating the PTSD is essential to building the foundation for a lasting recovery.
Dealing with a Crisis
Veterans with untreated substance use disorders are at a high risk of self-harm, accidental injury, or overdose.
If you or a veteran you know are experiencing a mental health crisis, please call one of these hotlines for immediate assistance:
- The Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 and press 1
- Stop Soldier Suicide: 1-844-889-5610
- The Real Warriors Live Chat: 1-866-966-1020 or start a live chat online
- PTSD Veteran Line: 1-877-717-7873
- National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Refer to our articles, Opioid Overdoses: What You Need to Know and Most Common Causes of an Overdose, to learn how to recognize the signs of a drug or alcohol overdose. If you believe that someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 for immediate assistance.
VA Treatment Resources
Addiction is a chronic illness, which means that veterans can’t recover with willpower alone. They need access to a full continuum of care that addresses the substance use disorder and any underlying mental health issues.
One of the first places you can check for treatment resources is the VA. VA treatment for substance abuse includes:
- Evidence-based psychotherapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Motivational Interviewing (MI)
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)
- Contingency Management (CM)
- Medication-Assisted treatment (MAT)
If you are struggling with substance abuse and have questions about your treatment options, you are encouraged to contact your VA health care provider to learn about the resources that may be available to you. Contact information for VA substance use disorder (SUD) specialists is available via the VA website.
Note that veterans with PTSD, TBI, depression, or other conditions linked to their military service are eligible for VA disability benefits. In addition to providing access to medical treatment, disability benefits provide monthly cash payments. Alleviating some of the financial stress a veteran feels can make it easier for them to focus on a lasting recovery.
How Mountain Laurel Recovery Center Can Help
At Mountain Laurel Recovery Center, we’re committed to meeting the needs of men and women struggling with drug or alcohol addiction—including those who’ve proudly served our country. We are now certified by the PsychArmor Institute to treat the unique needs of both veterans and their family members. Being a “Veteran Ready Healthcare Provider Organization” means that our staff members have completed specialized training that helps us understand, treat, and engage with veteran-based populations.
Our holistic, evidence-based care is personalized to fit each client’s unique needs and designed to build the foundation for lasting sobriety. If you’re ready to take the first steps towards a life free from the burden of addiction, we can help.