Substance abuse is a significant concern for veterans of all branches of the military, including the Coast Guard. At times, it can be hard to determine exactly how many military veterans are struggling with addiction because not all veterans who are struggling seek treatment with the VA and receive a diagnosis.1 However, the VA has reported numbers of veterans entering substance abuse treatment to reflect that it is a very serious issue for this population.
Coast Guard Veterans at Risk
Between 2005 and 2012, the number of veterans seeking help for drug or alcohol addiction at an outpatient VA treatment center rose by 52%.2 Substance abuse in veterans statistics indicate that males are twice as likely as females to have a substance use disorder and that alcohol is the most commonly abused substance.1
Drug and alcohol abuse is linked not only to a laundry list of physical complications, problems with job performance, and family conflict, but also to suicide. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, alcohol abuse is associated with a suicide risk 10x higher than that of the general population.3 An estimated 30% of completed suicides in veterans followed an episode of drug or alcohol use.1
Substance Abuse Warning Signs in Coast Guard Veterans
There are many signs of substance abuse in Coast Guard veterans that you may acknowledge in yourself or see in your loved one. These signs can include:1
- Using drugs or alcohol more often or greater amounts than intended.
- Giving up things that used to be important to you, like sports or hobbies.
- Using a substance even though it creates conflict in your family or other relationships.
- Using a substance regardless of the negative consequences it might have on your health or emotional well-being.
- Finding yourself unable to fulfill your responsibilities, like caring for your family or getting to work on time, because of your substance use.
- Trying to cut back and failing.
- Craving a substance or substances.
- Using a substance in risky situations, such as drinking and driving.
- Increasing tolerance, or having to use more to get the effects you want.
- Experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit.
Other signs you might notice include:4
- Slurred speech.
- Problems with motor coordination.
- Mood changes.
- Poor hygiene.
- Sudden changes in weight.
- Changes in sleep patterns.
- Bloodshot eyes or changes in pupil size.
Other Mental Health Issues Among Veterans
Mental health issues plague some Coast Guard veterans. Some of the most common types of mental health disorders among veterans include:5
- Bipolar disorder.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Estimates of veterans with mental health disorders seeking treatment at VA rehab centers and other types of VA treatment programs suggest that 1 in 3 veterans meets the criteria for at least one mental health disorder.6
While some people believe serving in the Coast Guard is less stressful than serving in other branches of the military, research shows that Coast Guard members have comparable rates of depression and PTSD with other types of military service, including the Army. 5
Mental health disorders increase a veteran’s risk for suicide. Tragically, between 18 and 22 veterans commit suicide each day in the U.S.6
Veteran Suicide Risk
Suicide is a serious issue among veterans. While suicide rates are highest among young veterans between 18 and 44 years old, veterans over the age of 50 are still twice as likely to commit suicide as non-veterans.6
Intervention for a suicide attempt is critical, as 11% of veterans who make a suicide attempt will try again within a few months. The encouraging news is that outcome studies have indicated that veterans who seek treatment through the VA attempt suicide at lower rates.6
Coast Guard Mental Health Resources
While Coast Guard veterans may realize that they need treatment for mental health and/or substance use disorders, they may find it hard to reach out and ask for help. Many veterans from all branches of service are hesitant to seek help due to the stigma associated with mental illness. Some reasons why include:7
- Fear of being seen as weak.
- Fear of being rejected or looked upon differently by their peers.
- Military culture and its emphasis on self-sufficiency and coping with one’s problems alone.
Veterans are likely to believe others will stigmatize them for seeking mental health treatment; however, few report that they would view a peer differently for doing the same.7 If you’re a veteran Coast Guardsman who is struggling, it can be helpful to remember as much. It’s also helpful to know that there are numerous resources you can reach out to for support.
The Coast Guard has resources to help address mental health and substance abuse, including:8
- A 1-800 support line. You can call them at 855-CGSUPRT (247-8778) or visit the website to speak to someone who can help you with family issues, financial planning, legal problems, or work-life conflict.
- Coast Guard chaplains who can offer spiritual guidance and support.
- The Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, which offers coverage for a variety of physical and mental health conditions.
- TRICARE, which offers coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment services to Coast Guardsmen and their dependents.
VA Mental Health Resources
If you’re in a mental health crisis—if you’re having suicidal thoughts, for example—you can call the 24/7 veterans crisis line at 1-800-273-2855. You can also text 838255 or chat online.
The VA offers numerous resources for mental health for Coast Guardsmen and other military service members and veterans.
- Vet centers, which provide support in local communities for outreach and referral for veterans adjusting to civilian life.
- Military OneSource is a helpline with access to a multitude of mental health services for veterans and their families. You can call them at 1-800-342-9647.
- VA Mental health offers resources and linkages to a variety of services offered through VA substance abuse treatment programs and VA rehab facilities for treating mental health disorders.
VA Treatment for Coast Guard Veterans
The VA offers numerous programs to treat veteran substance abuse and mental health issues.
VA treatment centers can provide quality treatment to Coast Guard veterans in need of help with mental health and/or substance abuse issues. You can easily search for a VA treatment facility or call 877-222-8387 for more help.
Desert Hope: VA Community Care Provider
Although the VA has numerous treatment centers, they cannot serve all veterans in need in a timely manner. Also, some veterans don’t live in close proximity to any VA rehab centers. When a veteran needs treatment and cannot receive it directly from the VA, the VA allows treatment providers in the community to help that individual. Community care providers (CCPs) are private treatment centers that have a contractual relationship with the VA to provide services to veterans.
Desert Hope is an approved community care provider in Las Vegas, Nevada. This means that veterans eligible to receive community care may be able to come to Desert Hope at the same rate they’d pay to attend a VA facility.
Desert Hope provides a program called Salute to Recovery, which was developed in response to the specific needs of veterans. Through the use of evidence-based therapies and the support of compassionate staff (many of whom are veterans themselves), Desert Hope helps veterans achieve lifelong recovery from substance abuse and mental illness.
- 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.
- Lan, C. W., Fiellin, D. A., Barry, D. T., Bryant, K. J., Gordon, A. J., Edelman, E. J., Gaither, J. R., Maisto, S. A., & Marshall, B. D. (2016). The epidemiology of substance use disorders in US Veterans: A systematic review and analysis of assessment methods. The American Journal on Addictions, 25(1), 7–24.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Substance Use and Suicide: A Nexus Requiring a Public Health Approach. In Brief.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Frequently asked questions.
- U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (2019). VA research on mental health.
- Olenick, M., Flowers, M., & Diaz, V. J. (2015). US veterans and their unique issues: enhancing health care professional awareness. Advances in Medical Education and Practice, 6, 635–639.
- Sharp, M. L., Fear, N. T., Rona, R. J., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., Jones, N., & Goodwin, L. (2015). Stigma as a barrier to seeking health care among military personnel with mental health problems. Epidemiologic Reviews, 37(1), 144-162.
- Coast Guard Compass. Mental health and taking care of yourself.