In one study, 60-80% of veteran patients with PTSD also had substance abuse issues. Some veterans self-medicate using drugs and alcohol to deal with the flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms, but drug abuse can worsen the symptoms.
In the last 10 years, the number of veterans who have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder (SUD) has increased, meaning that more are using illegal drugs or using alcohol in excess. Non-medical prescription drug usage and binge drinking are becoming especially problematic. For example, 35% of service members in 1998 reported binge drinking regularly compared to 47% in 2008.
As you can see in the table below, the number of diagnoses grew for veterans between 2008 and 2010. For instance, there was an increase of nearly 60,000 substance abuse diagnoses relating to alcohol in that time frame.
Combat and stressful experiences can cause significant difficulties for veterans, and sometimes they cope with those difficulties by using drugs or alcohol. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is heavily linked with substance abuse.
Other factors like current living situation can influence decisions about using drugs. One study found that when veterans lived with a partner who struggled with alcohol or drug abuse, those veterans were much more likely to use drugs than others who had PTSD and depression.
of homeless veterans struggle with substance abuse
of veterans in treatment for substance abuse experience chronic pain
33% of veterans in treatment report persistent pain. Chronic pain can make substance abuse treatment even more challenging because the pain is often treated using prescription drugs (opioids) that are addictive, and if not treated, it can make the additional discomfort of drug detox even worse.
of female veterans have experienced military sexual assualt
23% of female veterans in outpatient VA treatment experienced sexual assault while in military service. Veterans with a history of sexual assault tend to not respond to substance abuse treatment as well due to their past trauma.
The number of veterans committing suicide has increased for both men and women since 2001. A 2016 study by the VA shows that while the overall rate of suicide is lower for women, it is growing much more rapidly than for men. It’s especially problematic for female veterans who aren’t eligible for VA benefits. Likewise, female veterans have a higher rate of prescription drug abuse than their male counterparts, and a much higher rate of sexual abuse while serving in the military.
Homelessness has been shown to be linked to substance abuse as both the cause and result. Veterans who abuse substances may be more likely to experience homelessness due to the legal and work-related problems that come with a substance use disorder.
According to the VA, veterans have a higher suicide rate than civilians – an estimated 22 veterans die from suicide every day and even more consider it. Not only do some vets use drugs to avoid suicidal thoughts, but substance abuse also increases suicide rates.
While VA health benefits are not an insurance plan, they do cover substance abuse treatment at the VA, including counseling, medication, therapy, and various programs.
If your local VA doesn’t provide substance use disorder (SUD) services, go to the SUD program locator, which includes an interactive map that has all of the SUD programs in the U.S.
|Type of Program||Where||How Long||For Veterans Who||Services Provided|
|Inpatient Units||In hospital, live-in||Full time||Have urgent medical or psychiatric symptoms||Medication and therapy|
|Residential Units||Theraputic community||Full time||Have strong addiction and would benefit from supportive community and longer stay||Medication and therapy: group and individual|
|Intensive Outpatient Programs||Clinic||3 hours, 3 days/week||Want consistent programs but aren’t in dangerous circumstances||Independent and group therapy|
|Standard Outpatient Units||Varies||Depends on needs of Veteran||Want flexible services||Independent and/or group therapy|
|Combined PTSD/SUD Services||Varies||Depends on needs of Veteran||Have PTSD and SUD||Therapy: depends on veteran|
If you are unable or unwilling to get substance abuse treatment from the VA, there are many other ways for you to get help. Use our database to search for rehabs near you that offer specialized programs for current or former members of the armed forces. Additionally, you can use our filters to find programs that meet special needs, such as dual-diagnosis cases.
While veterans with VA health benefits can receive full substance abuse treatment, the VA specifies that any health care needs not directly resulting from military service may require a copay. Substance use disorder is usually completely covered, but in some circumstances, a copay may be necessary.
VA benefits do not include services outside of the VA. However, the Community Care program offers healthcare benefits outside of the VA for those unable to reach a VA facility. However, any care must be pre-authorized by the VA.
You can use the “low-cost” filter on our database tool to find state-funded treatment centers that usually offer some form of payment assistance, such as income-based fees, scholarships, and other financial aid.
For more information, read our guide on The Cost of Rehab
Dealing with the underlying causes of addiction is often necessary before recovery can be completed. There are many resources available to veterans who are struggling. If you need help, use the information listed in the table below to get started.
|Organization Name||Description||Phone Number|
|PTSD||Stress Project||Free or low-cost access to online services that help veterans with PTSD.||(707) 237-6951|
|National Center for PTSD||Information about PTSD and treatment.||(802) 296-6300|
|Homelessness||Operation Homefront||Help with emergency funds, housing services, and resources for spouses and children.||(210) 659-7756|
|Veterans Resource Centers of America||Housing and other helpful services.||(707) 578-2785|
|Chronic Pain||Make the Connection||Resources and steps to get help for chronic pain.||N/A|
|Suicidal Thoughts||Military Helpline||Staffed by members of the military.||(888) 457-4838|
|Veterans Crisis Line||Completely confidential.||(800) 273-8255|
|Women Veterans Call Center||For female veterans.||(855) 829-6636|
|Sexual Assault Trauma||Women Veterans Call Center||For female veterans.||(855) 829-6636|
|After Deployment||Resources for coping with various challenges including sexual assault.||(866) 966-1020|
Recovery is a tough but necessary process that releases you from depending on a substance for your happiness. As many veterans can attest, overcoming substance abuse is possible if you use the resources available to you.