Alcohol misuse among military veterans is a prevalent issue, often arising from the immense stress experienced during combat and service. For some, alcohol becomes a refuge, a means of coping with trauma and distress. However, this coping mechanism can escalate, leading to severe consequences. Some veterans find themselves grappling with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), the clinical term for alcohol addiction. Fortunately, a person can recover and develop healthier coping strategies with proper treatment.
Alcohol Misuse in Military Culture
Unfortunately, alcohol misuse can be deeply ingrained in military culture. Researchers have observed that alcohol consumption is a common and accepted practice among active-duty service members. Drinking often serves as a bonding activity, a form of recreation, and a means of stress relief within military circles. In some instances, binge drinking may even be normalized, making it difficult for service members struggling with alcohol misuse to recognize the severity of their problem.
Unraveling the Risk Factors for Alcohol Misuse in Veterans
While military culture and social norms play a significant role in fostering binge drinking among veterans, other risk factors also contribute to alcohol misuse.
The Role of PTSD
PTSD and alcohol misuse are closely interwoven in the lives of veterans. Those with PTSD are more inclined to resort to alcohol as a means of coping with their emotional turmoil. Moreover, experiencing multiple traumatic events throughout one’s life increases the likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder among veterans. Research also reveals that veterans with PTSD have a higher prevalence of AUD, ranging from 55% to 68%, compared to veterans without PTSD.
The Role of Depression
Depression is another critical factor increasing the risk of alcohol misuse among veterans. Particularly for those with PTSD, the desire to alleviate depressive symptoms can drive them towards alcohol as a coping mechanism. Over time, this reliance can lead to alcohol addiction.
The Role of Military Sexual Trauma (MST)
While research on MST has predominantly focused on female veterans, it’s essential to acknowledge its impact on male veterans as well. Studies have demonstrated that women who report alcohol consumption are more likely to have a history of MST. Women who’ve experienced MST may turn to alcohol to cope with depression or to avoid confronting uncomfortable emotions.
The Impact of Alcohol Addiction on Veterans
The temporary relief provided by alcohol misuse often comes at a steep cost. Beyond exacerbating veterans’ mental health issues, alcohol addiction leads to a cascade of negative consequences.
Alcohol addiction can push veterans into homelessness when they struggle to maintain employment and meet their financial obligations due to alcohol-related issues. Research highlights that alcohol misuse substantially raises the risk of experiencing homelessness for veterans, with behaviors like driving under the influence compounding the problem.
Self-Harm and Suicide
Veterans grappling with alcohol addiction face an elevated risk of self-harm and suicide. Studies indicate that veterans with AUD are over four times more likely to attempt suicide at some point in their lives compared to those without alcohol addiction.
Continuing to drink despite experiencing relationship problems due to alcohol misuse is a hallmark sign of an alcohol use disorder. Veterans grappling with alcohol addiction often find their relationships with spouses, children, and friends strained. Erratic and inappropriate behavior stemming from alcohol abuse can deteriorate friendships.
Statistics on Alcoholism Among Military Veterans
Statistical data on military veterans underscores the prevalence of alcohol misuse and alcohol use disorders within this demographic.
- A nationally representative survey encompassing over 3,000 veterans revealed that 42.2% had experienced an AUD at some point, with 14.8% displaying symptoms within the year prior to the survey.
- The study also noted that younger male veterans faced a higher risk of AUD compared to other groups.
- Additional research indicated that Gulf War veterans were 33% more likely to have an AUD than non-deployed veterans, and Iraq/Afghanistan veterans were 36% more likely.
Support for Military Veterans Struggling with Alcoholism
If you’re a military veteran seeking help for alcohol addiction, The Recovery Village is here to assist you. We are part of the VA Community Care Network and offer specialized group therapy for trauma. Reach out to a Recovery Advocate today to discover more about available treatment options.
Frequently Asked Questions about Alcohol Addiction Among Military Personnel & Veterans
Does the VA recognize alcoholism as a disability?
Veterans who sustain injuries, illnesses, or experience declining health during their military service may be eligible for disability benefits through the VA. To qualify, veterans must provide documentation of their disability and file a claim for disability compensation. Mental health conditions such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety may make veterans eligible for disability benefits. While veterans with an alcohol use disorder co-occurring with PTSD from their service might be eligible, veterans generally do not qualify for disability benefits based solely on alcohol use. For more information, contact the VA.
What are the primary causes of alcoholism among veterans?
Alcohol misuse among veterans is often associated with military culture, alongside mental health conditions like PTSD and depression. Service members may turn to alcohol as a means of stress relief or to cope with mental health challenges, leading to the development of addiction over time.
What are the typical signs and symptoms of alcohol misuse among veterans?
Indicators of alcohol addiction include:
- Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol
- Devoting substantial time to drinking or recovering from intoxication
- Struggling to fulfill work-related responsibilities
- Losing interest in usual hobbies and activities
- Experiencing intense alcohol cravings
- Inability to reduce alcohol intake
- Displaying withdrawal symptoms like tremors or headaches when not drinking
How does alcoholism affect veterans?
Alcohol misuse is associated with poor physical and mental health in veterans, contributing to problems such as homelessness, self-harm, and strained relationships.
What challenges do veterans face in seeking treatment for alcohol addiction?
While treatment offers significant benefits to veterans battling alcohol addiction, several barriers can impede their access to help. These barriers include emotional readiness for treatment, perception of not needing treatment, reluctance to seek assistance, fear of stigma or repercussions and limited time to seek care.
Veteran Recovery Is Our Mission
The Recovery Village is an industry-leading treatment provider for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.
- Experienced clinicians: Our clinicians are specially trained in trauma-informed care, military culture and treating veteran-specific addiction and mental health needs.
- Dual diagnosis: We treat addiction and mental health disorders like PTSD, anxiety or depression simultaneously for a better recovery.
- EMDR: A revolutionary treatment available at several facilities, EMDR therapy alleviates mental pain and emotional recession from trauma, which can lead to better outcomes for your addiction.
- FORTITUDE: Our specialty track for veterans and first responders at select facilities puts you in exclusive group therapy sessions with your peers.
If you’re a veteran struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, our Veteran Advocates can help you navigate your VA health insurance and get you the help you need.
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