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Veterans and Alcohol Abuse Statistics

Substance abuse is prevalent in a number of populations, but veterans and alcohol abuse is a growing concern in the United States. Substance abuse in the military is common for those deployed to conflict zones due to the nature of the job, which involves a great deal of stress and trauma. Stress and trauma are common underlying factors for substance abuse and addiction, and veterans and alcohol abuse are often linked to these factors.

3 Minute Read | Published Sep 30 2023 | Updated Feb 27 2024 Expert Verified
Emma Collins
Written by
Dr. Ash Bhatt
Reviewed by
Emma Collins
Written by
Dr. Ash Bhatt
Reviewed by

Veterans and alcohol abuse is a concern in the U.S., partly due to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a common mental illness that results from being a victim or witness to a traumatic event. Veterans who experienced trauma during deployment are at a high risk of developing PTSD, and many occurrences of substance abuse in the military are linked to PTSD. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, up to 20 percent of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans have PTSD in a given year. For Gulf War veterans, that number is around 12 percent, and for the Vietnam War, it’s about 30 percent.

Sexual assault is also a common trigger for PTSD, and 23 percent of female veterans report sexual assualt while serving in the military. Additionally, 55 percent of women and 38 percent of men have experienced sexual harassment while in the military.

The most common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Nightmares.
  • Insomnia.
  • Feelings of fear, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness.
  • Flashbacks, or reliving a traumatic event.

PTSD can occur right after a trauma, or it can occur weeks, months, or even years later.

PTSD and Alcoholism in Combat Veterans

PTSD is a major factor for veterans and alcohol abuse. Veterans with PTSD are more likely than their non-PTSD counterparts to abuse alcohol, according to the VA, which points out that up to three quarters of people who have survived sexual abuse or violent trauma report having a drinking problem.

People with PTSD abuse alcohol for a number of reasons:

  • To forget unpleasant memories.
  • To help them sleep.
  • To suppress nightmares.
  • To cope with anxiety and fear.
  • To avoid having to deal with negative emotions.

But alcohol abuse almost always worsens symptoms of PTSD. Alcohol makes it more difficult to cope with stress, and it can lead to increased irritability, anger, and depression. Numbing negative emotions with alcohol can lead to social isolation, and it can prolong the symptoms of PTSD.

Additionally, people with PTSD who abuse alcohol are more likely to have panic attacks, develop obsessive-compulsive disorder, experience depression, and have attention problems. They’re more likely to have ongoing physical pain and develop illnesses down the road, such as diabetes, heart disease, and liver disease.

Veterans and Alcohol Abuse: Getting Help

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a treatable condition, and getting help for PTSD can transform your life. But if you have PTSD and an alcohol addiction, simply treating the PTSD won’t effectively help you end the addiction. Likewise, getting treatment for the addiction without addressing the PTSD won’t effectively end the substance abuse.

When PTSD and alcohol addiction occur together, it’s known as a dual diagnosis, and it requires specialized treatment. PTSD and alcoholism in combat veterans must be treated simultaneously, each in the context of the other.

Through a variety of therapies, you’ll address a broad range of issues and resolve the fear, anger, depression, and other negative emotions that contribute to alcohol abuse. You’ll develop the coping skills you need to stay sober for the long-term. Most importantly, a high quality treatment program will help you restore your life and your sense of wellbeing for a higher quality of life.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at (800) 429-7690.


bullet Center for Deployment Psychology (2018)
"Substance Use Disorders in the U.S. Armed Forces"
Retrieved on November 10, 2017
bullet Cucciare, M. A., Han, X., & Timko, C. (2016)
"Extent and correlates of heavy drinking among veterans receiving medical services. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 62, 61-69"
Retrieved on November 10, 2017
bullet Grant, B. F., Dawson, D. A., Stinson, F. S., Chou, P. S., Dufour, M. C., & Pickering, R. P. (2004)
"The 12-month prevalence and trends in DSM-IV alcohol abuse and dependence: United States, 1991-1992 and 2001-2002. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 74(3), 223-234"
Retrieved on November 10, 2017
bullet National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (2018).
"Alcohol and the Military"
Retrieved on November 10, 2017
bullet Seal, K. H., Cohen, G., Waldrop, A., Cohen, B. E., Maguen, S., & Ren, L. (2011)
"Substance use disorders in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in VA healthcare, 2001-2010: Implications for screening, diagnosis and treatment. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 116(1-3), 93-101"
Retrieved on November 10, 2017
bullet Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2018)
"Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration"
Retrieved on November 10, 2017
bullet Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2020)
Retrieved on November 10, 2017
bullet Tanielian, T., & Jaycox, L. H. (Eds.). (2008)
"Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation."
Retrieved on November 10, 2017

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