Active-duty servicemembers work in environments that expose them to extreme, often traumatizing situations, which may lead to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. Additionally, substance abuse is associated with co-occurring mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which veterans may struggle with following service.1
Drug and Alcohol Abuse in the Army
Studies have also shown that substance use before enlistment, military culture surrounding alcohol use, combat experiences, the boredom and loneliness involved in long periods of deployment, physical health issues as a result of service, and struggles adjusting to civilian life after separation from the military may contribute to this prevalent issue.1,2
Alcohol is one of the most problematic substances for Army Soldiers:2,3
- 8% of young men in the Army are heavy drinkers, a rate higher than other branches of the military.2
- 3% of women in the Army are heavy drinkers, lower than most other branches of the military, but higher than similarly aged female civilians.2, 3
Prescription drug abuse is also an issue the Army is currently attempting to curb. At the end of fiscal year 2016, an estimated 6% of active-duty Soldiers who were prescribed painkillers were using them on a chronic basis.4
Active-duty Army Soldiers struggling with drug or alcohol abuse can take part in the Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP). The Army implemented this program to provide proactive and responsive services relating to current or past substance abuse among Soldiers. ASAP offers alcohol and drug abuse prevention training as well as treatment to Soldiers at all levels of command. These services are also extended to civilian corps members and family members.
Army Veterans’ Substance Abuse
While substance abuse occurs among active-duty Soldiers, studies show that veteran’s substance use may escalate upon discharge due to increased freedom, physical pain, PTSD, other mental health disorders, or difficulty in readjusting to life outside of the Army.5,6
Among veterans, substance use disorders (SUDs) are among the most common and costly of all health conditions.6 Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are the most common SUDs among Soldiers, which may be due in part to strict policies against illicit drug use in the military.1
The following statistics illustrate the problem of substance abuse in the veteran population:
- When compared to their non-veteran counterparts, veterans are more likely to use alcohol.1 (p. 71)
- Veterans report higher rates of heavy use of alcohol versus their non-veteran counterparts.1 (p. 71)
- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) treats more than 1.1 million veterans with addiction and/or mental health disorders each year.6
- 75% of veterans with an addiction are also diagnosed with comorbid PTSD.6
- Relative to other military personnel, those with high levels of combat exposure are more likely to engage in heavy (26.8%) and binge (54.8%) drinking behaviors.1
- Misuse of prescription drugs is on the rise among veterans.1
Additionally, though the prevalence of SUDs is high among veterans, a stigma surrounding addiction and treatment may keep them from seeking help.1 (p 74) Within the military, a focus on hypermasculinity has placed importance on self-reliance, causing some veterans to try and solve mental health issues on their own or hide them from friends and family.1
Large numbers of veterans with substance use disorders go untreated.5 Efforts to overcome barriers surrounding addiction treatment are needed for veterans to experience long-term recovery.
Signs of Alcohol & Drug Use in Army Vets
When it comes to addiction in Army veterans, there are behavioral and physical warning signs to look for when assessing whether you or a loved one may be suffering from an SUD.
Behavioral warning signs of a veteran’s substance abuse may include:7
- Altered eating, energy, or sleeping patterns.
- Changes in attitude or personality.
- Getting in trouble frequently (e.g., accidents, fights, criminal activity).
- Increased secrecy or engaging in suspicious behavior.
- Losing motivation.
- Missing days or being less productive at work or school.
- Mood swings.
Physical warning signs may include:7
- Changes in weight.
- Bloodshot eyes.
- Lack of attention to hygiene.
- Pupils that are larger or smaller than normal.
- Shakes, slurring, or loss of coordination.
How Are Substance Use Disorders Diagnosed?
Substance use disorders occur when a person begins to lose control of their substance use and it begins to cause clinically significant impairment (e.g., health problems, disability) and failure to meet responsibilities at home, work, or school.8 To be diagnosed with a SUD, an individual must meet at least 2 of the following criteria within the same 12-month period:9
- Continued use after the substance has created or worsened a chronic physical/mental health issue.
- Continued use after the substance has created or worsened issues in relationships.
- Cravings to use.
- Difficulty meeting obligations at home, school, or work because of use.
- Investing a lot of time into getting, using, or recovering from the effects of drugs and/or alcohol.
- Lack of control over the amount or duration of use.
- Slowing or stopping important social, work-related, or hobby activities to use.
- Unsuccessful attempts to quit or regulate amount of use.
- Using in situations that could be hazardous (e.g., driving).
- Developing a tolerance (i.e., needing more of the substance to achieve the desired effect).
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping use.
Worried You Have a Problem?
To make it easier to identify potential problems, the VA offers a confidential, online substance use screening. Results will not be saved on a server. You can print it out and bring it to a doctor or therapist.
If you want to learn more about addiction treatment and what it involves, you can call us today to speak to an Admissions Navigator at 702-848-6223.
Substance Abuse Programs for Army Veterans and Soldiers
The VA has many resources to help servicemembers and veterans and their loved ones who are struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction. Their services provide answers, support and access to treatment and recovery via various programs and classes.
Soldiers and veterans with TRICARE coverage may be eligible for substance abuse and mental health treatment. TRICARE drug rehab coverage includes detox, inpatient, and outpatient care, as well as treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders. Only services that are medically necessary are considered proven are covered by TRICARE.
Prior authorization may be required for some services, including outpatient treatment or residential treatment. For assistance in finding a rehab facility that is covered by TRICARE, visit TRICARE’s Find a Doctor page.
The VA also offers free or low-cost substance abuse treatment for veterans enrolled with the VA. Once enrolled, you can visit a VA rehab center to access substance abuse treatment.
What Is VA Community Care?
While veterans have the option to access treatment with the VA, the VA can’t always provide care for every veteran, whether this is due to location, wait times, or service quality. The Veterans Community Care program allows eligible veterans to obtain treatment from a network of approved providers in the community. The VA makes all eligibility determinations and generally sets appointments for the veteran. In Nevada, where Desert Hope is located, TriWest administers all community care benefits.
Desert Hope is a certified community care provider, or CCP, with the VA. Veterans who qualify to receive community care may be able to partake in our Salute to Recovery program that caters to veteran and first responder populations battling addiction and mental health issues such as depression, loss, PTSD, and anxiety.
We provide specialized programming tailored specifically to your experiences. All participants will room in the same area of the facility, attend groups and classes together, and act as a support network for each other.
Desert Hope’s veterans program offers care through a combination of behavioral therapies, trauma counseling, anger management, family counseling, coping skills, relapse prevention, 12-step meetings, and peer support. Several staff members are veterans as well.
We understand that the situation can seem hopeless at times, but with the right treatment and support, recovery is possible. Asking for help is the first step towards living a healthier life.
Veterans Crisis Line & Other Support Resources
If you’re in crisis and not yet ready to seek treatment, below are additional resources for you to seek immediate help online:
- Veterans Crisis Line offers free services by phone, text, and chat for active servicemembers and veterans, 24/7.
- Real Warriors Live Chat offers health resource consultants that are available to chat online at any time about issues such as the daily stresses of military life or concerns about depression and anxiety.
- Outreach Center connects you to a trained professional at any time if you have questions or concerns regarding anything from moral support to veteran and family services.
- Teeters, J.B., Lancaster, C.L., Brown, D.G., & Back, S.E. (2017). Substance use disorders in military veterans: prevalence and treatment challenges. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 8, 69-77.
- Ames, G., & Cunradi, C. Alcohol Use and Preventing Alcohol-Related Problems Among Young Adults in the Military.
- Schumm, J.A., & Chard, K.M. (2012). Alcohol and Stress in the Military. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 34(4), 401-407.
- Curthoys, K. (2018). Army working on more ways to manage Soldiers’ pain in fight against opioid abuse. ArmyTimes.
- Vazan, P., Golub, A., & Bennett, A. S. (2013). Substance use and other mental health disorders among veterans returning to the inner city: prevalence, correlates, and rates of unmet treatment need. Substance Use & Misuse, 48(10), 880–893.
- Lan, C.W., Fiellin, D.A., Barry, D.T., Bryant, K.J., Gordon, A.J., Edelman, E.J., … Marshall, B.D. (2016). The Epidemiology of Substance Use Disorders in US veterans: A Systematic Review and Analysis of Assessment Methods. The American Journal of Addictions, 25(1), 7-24.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019). Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Publishing, 481-484.