Alcoholism in Military Veterans

Alcohol abuse is a serious problem for the Veteran population. Issues such as trauma, military sexual assault, combat exposure, and depression can contribute to or worsen a Veteran’s drinking.

Veterans may drink to cope with mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and end up making it worse. Struggling Veterans can find hope in treatment that addresses both their alcohol use and any mental health disorders from which they suffer. 

Veterans’ Alcohol Abuse Statistics

Alcohol abuse is an issue that impacts both active-duty military and Veterans alike. The following statistics illustrate just how big of a concern drinking is for active and Veteran service members:1–4

  • Alcohol use disorders are the most common type of substance use disorder in military personnel.
  • Service members with high combat exposure are more likely than their counterparts with no such exposure to engage in problem alcohol use, both heavy drinking (27% vs. 17%) and binge drinking (55% vs. 45%).
  • An estimated 12% of Army soldiers who came home from Iraq reported problems with their alcohol use.
  • More than 20% of all service members say they drink heavily.
  • Veterans are more likely to use alcohol and to drink heavily than non-Veterans.
  • Alcohol use disorders are more prevalent among male Veterans than female Veterans (10.5% vs. 4.8%).
  • Among homeless Veterans who reported having overdosed, alcohol was the substance most commonly reported as the cause.
  • Alcohol use in military populations is linked to increased suicide risk.

Risk Factors for Alcoholism in Veterans

Service members and Veterans drink for a variety of reasons. They may drink for social reasons (e.g., to bond or fit in), or they may drink to address internal issues such as emotional pain or anxiety.3

Drinking that is socially motivated appears to be associated with fewer negative consequences than drinking motivated by internal factors. Veterans whose drinking is triggered by a desire to cope with an internal problem such as stress may be more at risk of developing a problem with alcohol over time.3

Emotional turmoil and mental health issues, such as PTSD and depression, are common among Veterans, and these are the types of internal issues that can lead a person to drink.


PTSD is commonly diagnosed in Veterans and a known risk factor for alcohol abuse.5,6 Among Vietnam Veterans seeking treatment for PTSD, up to 80% have problems with alcohol.5 PTSD may arise as a result of several different service-related stressors, such as combat exposure, having to kill another person during combat, and military sexual trauma.1,7

War Veterans with PTSD commonly engage in binge drinking, and according to the National Center for PTSD, binge drinking can be an attempt to cope with or suppress traumatic memories.4,5


Another mental health condition that may lead a Veteran to drink heavily is depression. Symptoms of depression after military service have been shown to lead to or worsen problem drinking in Veterans, and psychological turmoil from the disorder can worsen a Veteran’s cravings for alcohol.1

One study found that it is rare for a Veteran to present for treatment with substance use disorder only. More commonly, Veterans are diagnosed with both a substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental health disorder such as depression.1

Military Sexual Trauma

Military sexual trauma (MST)—which may include sexual assault, battery, or harassment during military service—may be related to several adverse physical and mental health issues, including increased drinking.7,8

In a large study of military reservists, female reservists who experienced high levels of sexual harassment were more likely to misuse alcohol than those who experienced lower levels of harassment. Female reservists are also likely to abuse alcohol as a way of coping with symptoms of depression that arise as a result of military sexual harassment.7

Military sexual trauma may lead to the development of certain mental health disorders.8 According to the VA, the most common disorder to arise after MST is PTSD, which is related to an increased risk of alcohol and other substance use disorders.5,8

Past Traumas

A Veteran’s history of trauma before military service can raise their risk for developing an alcohol use disorder. For example, someone with a history of child physical or sexual abuse may be more likely to have a drinking problem as a Veteran.1

Effects of Alcohol Abuse on Veterans

Alcohol misuse can take a severe toll on the lives of Veterans. Heavy drinking has been shown to have a very negative impact on long-term health.1 Binge drinkers may be particularly at-risk for the negative outcomes of alcohol abuse, including legal problems, relationship issues, and job loss. One study showed them to be twice as likely as non-binge drinkers to have these issues.1 

In the Veteran population, alcohol use is related to an increased risk of interpersonal violence, poor health, and early death.1 

Alcohol can also worsen the very symptoms that Veterans try to improve through drinking. For example, Veterans may drink to try and better manage their PTSD symptoms, but in the long run, those symptoms are often made worse by alcohol, and new problems that make life even more difficult may develop.5

Additionally, the National Center for PTSD explains that Veterans who suffer from PTSD and have drinking problems are more likely to struggle with other serious issues including:5

  • Panic attacks and extreme worries.
  • Depression.
  • Behavior that harms other people.
  • Problems with other drugs.
  • Chronic illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease.
  • Chronic pain.

Veterans Alcohol Rehab

If you are experiencing the signs of alcoholism, such as an inability to stop despite a desire to do so, seek out professional treatment. Attempting to detox from alcohol on your own is so dangerous it can actually threaten your life. Alcohol addiction treatment in Orange County can provide Veterans with a safe environment in which to withdraw from alcohol and seek ongoing care.

Laguna Treatment Center is part of the VA’s community care network and offers a Veterans program designed to meet the specific needs of the Veteran community. At Laguna, we understand that many Veterans struggle with both addiction and one or more mental health issue.

Veterans need integrated care for all the problems they are experiencing in order to achieve lasting recovery, which is why our Veterans’ programs provide co-occurring disorder treatment, with a specialized focus on topics that matter to Veterans and therapies that address issues such as trauma.

As an authorized community care provider, eligible Veterans may be able to receive treatment at our facility for the rate they would pay with the VA.

To learn more about how we can help you or a loved one find renewed hope through our Veterans’ programs, call us today at . We are here for you any time of day, any day of the week.

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