Veterans and Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol and the military have long been paired together, as drinking is one hallmarks of military bonding. Drinking as a unit is extremely common for members of the military, and this tradition continues after our men and women hang up their uniforms.
Veterans’ Halls and other established clubs for former soldiers commonly feature alcohol has a relevant part of the culture, offering free or discounted drinks to any former member of the Armed Forces. While there is nothing inherently wrong with active-duty service members or Veterans drinking, excessive alcohol use combined with medications those suffering from combat-related health issues are using could cause serious problems.
Alcohol use increases issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries. For Veterans, the increased use of alcohol could serve as self-medication for serious health issues which must be addressed by medical professionals and counselors.
Substance Abuse Disorder
According to the VA’s National Center for PTSD website, there is a strong relationship between sufferers of PTSD and substance abuse disorder (SUD). They state that more than two out of ten Veterans with PTSD also have SUD. It’s noted that Veteran’s suffering from both PTSD and SUD also suffer from other health issues, relationship problems, and problems transitioning to civilian life.
The takeaway from this is that alcohol’s prominent place in military tradition creates more obstacles to a successful recovery active-duty injuries and complications. While alcohol effects everyone differently, excessive drinking only temporarily delays health and emotional problems for our men and women in uniform.
1 in 8
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency (NCADD) found that one in eight troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were referred to counseling for problems relating to alcohol use. The NCADD also had the following breakdowns:
- 56% of male Veterans used alcohol, compared to 41% of female Veterans
- 14% of female Veterans are binge drinkers; male Veterans came in at 23%
- Heavy drinking for both male and female Veterans came in under 10%; 2% of female Veterans drank heavily and 7% of male Veterans
Veteran Rates are Similar to Civilian Alcohol Rates
A survey of 20 million Veterans demonstrates that alcohol use ranges in the military. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says that 70% of Americans have drank in the past year, and 56% reported that they drank in the past month.
The NIAAA also noted that 24% of Americans had engaged in binge drinking in the past month. Close to 7% said they had heavily drank in the previous month. While Veteran and civilian rates for alcohol are similar, the added issues Veterans face make their alcohol use more alarming.
Diagnosing alcoholism within the Veteran community is one of the growing health challenges facing the VA, regional, and local Veteran groups. Alcohol is easy to access and consume, and can result in unforeseen consequences for former Armed Service members already suffering physically and mentally.
Obviously banning alcohol use is out of the question and unnecessary. Better education about the dangers of mixing alcohol with medication and untreated physical and mental illness from combat could help new Veterans avoid the dangers of excessive alcohol use.
There is little doubt that drinking will always be associated with the military and serving our country, and it is foolish to try and stamp out a tradition of service in the Armed Forces. For many active-duty service members and Veterans, using alcohol is a substitute for poor treatment for other serious issues.