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Veterans and Alcohol Abuse

Veterans who have served in active duty, especially those in the combat zone, have a long history of alcohol abuse. The trauma associated with going to war and fighting in difficult conditions can have lasting effects and engrained pain. 

Unfortunately, these veterans often turn to alcohol as a temporary means to numb the trauma and pain of war-time memories. This temporary fix frequently evolves into an alcohol use disorder (AUD), also known as alcoholism or alcohol addiction.

Causes of Veteran Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

While serving in the military and being on active duty, individuals encounter living conditions and decision-making situations that they do not typically experience as a civilian. These situations may convince individuals to make decisions that go against their moral code and base instincts. 

Soldiers are often exposed to harsh, treacherous weather conditions, inadequate supplies, and uncomfortable temporary living conditions. They may be isolated for extended periods or even injured. All these factors combined are considered a moral injury. Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trauma often abuse alcohol as a means to self-medicate.

Prolonged alcohol use or abuse can lead to addiction. Consuming alcohol regularly to suppress trauma and pain is habit-forming and easy to abuse. Recreational drinking to relax may turn into an addiction. 

Sometimes, alcohol becomes the only way these individuals feel like they can be themselves, physically eat, sleep, or perform essential functions. Even still, as their tolerance increases, they may find it necessary to drink more and more to feel normal. 


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Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

AUD is a chronic brain disorder characterized by an inability to stop or control alcohol use despite repetitive attempts at sobriety.

Symptoms of AUD include:

  • Cravings and a strong desire to use alcohol
  • The inability to control alcohol consumption following persistent attempts to quit
  • Drinking alone
  • Difficulties consuming less alcohol during drinking sessions
  • Lacking goals or hobbies outside of drinking alcohol
  • Diminishing school and job performance due to the after-effects and hangovers, or the inability to be sober on the job
  • Issues with interpersonal relationships
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home, taking care of their needs such as purchasing and eating food, cleanliness, etc.
  • Lack of engagement in work, recreational activities, or social activities that they were once interested in
  • Continuing to drink even when the individual is aware that they may need to drive or operate machinery
  • Increased consumption due to increased tolerance

Veterans Alcohol Rehab Treatment Options/Resources

When planning and researching treatment, individuals should discuss with their therapist how drinking worsens PTSD symptoms. Local VA (Veterans Association) hospitals may offer these resources or treatment services. 

Alcohol consumption affects sleep, anxiety, anger and irritability, depression, and may worsen relationship problems at home and at work. Treatment must include education, therapy, and support groups to see long-term acceptance and results with sobriety.

The treatment plan for alcohol use problems and PTSD should tackle both issues simultaneously since PTSD symptoms may increase once the individual quits drinking habitually. 

Individuals can seek out meetings and outlets for both alcohol abuse and PTSD. There are meetings and groups dedicated to stopping both of these issues. If you want to quit drinking alcohol, engage with professionals who are specialists in this type of treatment and recovery.

Always speak with a doctor or primary care provider when reducing alcohol consumption, as withdrawal symptoms vary in intensity. Withdrawal symptoms may include headache, nausea, and sweating. Depending upon one’s medical history and current biology, intense effects such as seizures and hallucinations may occur.

It takes time, the proper care, active therapy with trained professionals, as well as support groups and steps. PTSD with a dependency on alcohol can be dangerous, both physically and mentally. Staying sober helps individuals develop the clarity they need to confront PTSD symptoms head-on and make positive changes through therapy and recovery.

Check out website resources such as the US Department of Veteran Affairs Website: https://www.va.gov/

Additional resources are available through the Department of Health and Human Services Website for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or SAMSA: https://www.samhsa.gov/


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“Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4 June 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders.

Dokoupil, Tony. “A New Theory of PTSD and Veterans: Moral Injury.” News Week, December, no. 2012, 3 Dec. 2012, pp. 1–9., https://cplchado.org/articles/A-New-Theory-of-PTSD-and-Veterans-Moral-Injury-12-03-2012-Tony-Dokoupil.pdf.

Sisters, The Kitchen. “Tequila Nation: Mexico Reckons With Its Complicated Spirit.” NPR, NPR, 24 June 2014, www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/06/24/323714694/tequila-nation-mexico-reckons-with-its-complicated-spirit.

Fuller RK, Branchey L, Brightwell DR, et al. Disulfiram Treatment of Alcoholism: A Veterans Administration Cooperative Study. JAMA. 1986;256(11):1449–1455. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03380110055026 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/362259

Morton, J L, et al. “Performance of Alcoholism Screening Questionnaires in Elderly Veterans.” The American Journal of Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 1996, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8757354.

GG;, Magruder-Habib K;Harris KE;Fraker. “Validation of the Veterans Alcoholism Screening Test.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1982, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7166959/.

Steven H. Woodward Ph.D. et al. “Hippocampal Volume, PTSD, and Alcoholism in Combat Veterans.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 1 Apr. 2006, ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/ajp.2006.163.4.674.

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