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Alcoholism in the Veteran Community: Get Connected to the Support You Deserve

woman in therapy sessionIf you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism, you are not alone. You can build a support network, get the treatment you need and begin the road to recovery.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about alcoholism, its effects and the resources available to help those who are struggling. Because alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the Veteran population, it is important to understand the causes behind alcoholism, how to recognize its symptoms and what treatment options are available.


The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines alcoholism or alcohol use disorder as a medical condition characterized by difficulty stopping or controlling the use of alcohol even when there are negative consequences. Veterans and Service members can be at greater risk for alcohol addiction because of the unique stresses and challenges of military life. Whether it’s struggling to adjust to civilian life after deployment, exposure to traumatic events during deployment or being away from loved ones, alcohol is often used to cope with difficult thoughts and emotions.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about alcoholism, its effects and the resources available to help those who are struggling.

Many people turn to alcohol as a response to stress and anxiety and in many cases, alcoholism covers up an underlying mental health issue, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), more than two of 10 Veterans with PTSD also have a substance use disorder and one out of three Veterans seeking treatment for substance abuse also has PTSD. Because mental health issues and substance abuse are often connected, it is important to seek mental health treatment in addition to substance abuse help.


Alcoholism often begins with a person making a willful choice to drink without complication, so how do you know when you or someone you love has a problem?  There are several signs and symptoms common to alcoholism including:

  • Increased urge to drink
  • Changes in relationships due to drinking
  • Inability to stop drinking despite negative consequences
  • Increased tolerance or drinking more to get the same effects as before
  • Withdrawal symptoms after not drinking for a certain period
  • Interference with daily responsibilities, such as your job, family or bills


Although people often believe that alcohol relieves their problems in an immediate, short-term way, excessive drinking and alcohol use can lead to serious health problems and long-term consequences.

  • Alcoholism often worsens a person’s underlying mental health condition, such as depression or PTSD.
  • Alcoholism among Veterans may lead to a greater risk of homelessness.
  • Alcoholism in Veterans is linked to an increased risk of suicide.
  • Alcoholism rewires the brain and can exacerbate anxiety and insomnia.
  • Alcoholism can affect relationships with family and friends and interfere with professional goals.

Treatment Options

Veterans have access to specific programs and services designed to deal with alcoholism and treat other issues or mental health problems that exist. Treatment programs can include:

  • Individual therapy
  • Marriage and family counseling
  • Medications
  • Cognitive behavior therapy
  • Inpatient/residential or live-in care
  • Outpatient care or counseling
  • Support groups
  • Continuing care and relapse prevention
  • Special programs for Veterans with specific concerns, such as women Veterans, returning combat Veterans, homeless Veterans and more


Here are some options to get you the support you deserve:

  • VA health care covers services and treatments designed to help you recover from alcohol and substance abuse. Treatments include proven medication options, short-term counseling, self-help groups, residential care and much more.
    • If you have a VA primary care provider, talk about your substance abuse and get screened for substance abuse problems and related issues like depression and PTSD.
    • If you served in a combat zone, you can get free private counseling and other support at any one of the 300 community Vet Centers.
    • If you don’t have VA health care benefits, learn how to apply or find a substance use disorder treatment option near you.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a National Helpline that is free, confidential and available 24/7, 365 days a year for treatment referral and information.
  • has information on thousands of state-licensed providers who specialize in treating substance abuse disorders, addiction and mental illness.
  • American Addiction Centers has admissions navigators to help Veterans and their families learn what is needed for VA to pay for a private facility.
  • The Veterans Crisis Line is available regardless of whether you’re enrolled in VA benefits or health care. You can call 988 and press 1, chat or text 838255 24/7, 365 days a year.
  • Make the Connection is a website full of stories from Veterans about their own experiences with overcoming alcohol and drug problems.

If you are struggling with alcoholism or substance use problems, you are not alone. The challenges of military service can lead to an unhealthy relationship with these substances. Reach out and get the help you deserve.

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