Veterans and Alcohol Abuse – Why We Need Better Supports in Place

Military and Veterans, Substance Abuse

This article was written by Dr. Tristin C. Galvez, SMVF Clinician III


The Unique Challenges Veterans Face

A Veteran is defined as someone who has previously served in a branch of the Armed Forces to include Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard. There are four different types of veterans: Disabled Veterans, Recently Separated Veterans, Campaign Badge Veterans, and Armed Forces Service Medal Veterans.

Whether an individual has completed one tour or many tours, or is retired, discharged, or separated for any reason, there are challenges that all veterans face.

One would think serving the country and sacrificing their time would put veterans in a place to be eligible for a lot of support and benefits and, although there are benefits available for military members, veterans and their families, finding out about the programs and applying for them is often difficult and complicated. As a result, many veterans are unaware of the options out there and struggle to find their way.

Veterans and Alcohol Abuse

There are a lot of things that military personnel face while in the military, and after they get out, that are never dealt with. This leads to veterans seeking alternative ways to manage and self-medicate to avoid dealing with the deeper issues. 

These self-medicated alternatives include, but are not limited to:

  • Marijuana
  • Pain pills
  • Alcohol

Alcohol is the most used substance in the U.S. and is the fourth-leading preventable cause of death. Annually, more than 140,000 people in the U.S. (approximately 97,000 men and 43,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes. Alcoholism in veterans is a common and severe problem. Veterans show higher rates of alcoholism on a regular basis compared to the general population. It is the most prevalent problem among veterans.

Supporting Veterans Struggling With Alcohol Abuse

There is no cookie cutter approach to eliminate the effects that alcohol has on the veteran community, but there are some ways to reduce it. Veterans need direct support and resources that do not take a lengthy amount of time to obtain. Long periods of time lead to individuals giving up and finding shorter and quicker results. Having interim options or short-term support in place until the long-term ones are available will help keep continuity of care for the veteran.

Some supports that can help veterans struggling with alcohol abuse include:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Narcotics Anonymous (both programs use the 12-step program and welcome anyone struggling with any type of substance abuse)
  • Psychotherapeutic approaches – cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other behavioral interventions. These interventions focus on the identification and modification of maladaptive thoughts and behaviors associated with increased craving, use, or relapse to substances.

Related: 5 Ways You Can Help Support the Mental Health of a Veteran in Your Life

Our Veterans Need Better Support When It Comes To Alcohol Abuse

The need for better support is evident by the continued rise in numbers of veterans dealing with alcohol addiction. 

There are several factors that lead to alcohol abuse in veterans, including:

  • Limited access to benefits
  • Homelessness
  • Unemployment
  • PTSD/unresolved trauma

Related: 4 Ways That Trauma-focused Therapy is Different Is Different From Regular Mental Health Counseling

Often society focuses on the veteran’s use of alcohol rather than what leads them to drinking. If the underlying issues were addressed, the alcohol wouldn’t be needed. It is an ongoing battle that veterans will continue to face if presenting factors are not addressed. 

We Provide Compassionate Care to Veterans Struggling With Alcohol Abuse

The Region Five network of Community Services Boards (CSBs) provides behavioral health care services and supports to our community members across the Greater Tidewater Hampton Roads Area.

Our CSBs offer medical detox, individual and family counseling, peer support programs, and specialized services for veterans. 

Find your local CSB and make an appointment for same-day access here.

Need help right away?

Help is available anytime, 24/7, through the Region Five Crisis Line. A trained counselor will listen and, if you want, provide recommendations and connect you to local resources.

Call the Crisis Line at 757-656-7755.

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