Table of Contents
I. Getting Help

I. Statistics on Substance Abuse Among Veterans

The rate of substance abuse among veterans is increasing over time

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.

Veteran Substance Abuse Diagnoses
2008 2009 2010
Opioid 35,240 39,020 43,332
Cocaine 74,995 77,371 80,348
Any Drug 182,003 198,989 216,173
Alcohol 303,488 334,130 362,737

Factors that Influence and Encourage Substance Abuse

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.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse are linked

60-80%

of veterans with PTSD also have a substance abuse problem

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.

Homeless veterans are likely to abuse substances

70%

of homeless veterans struggle with substance abuse

Almost 70% of homeless veterans have experienced substance abuse issues. Some researchers believe that the negative view of homelessness contributes to increased substance abuse, and substance abuse then makes it harder for the veteran to hold a steady job.

Chronic pain is often linked to substance abuse issues

33%

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.

Substance Abuse Among Female Veterans

More than one in five female veterans have experienced sexual assault while serving in the military

23%

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 female veteran suicide rate is on the rise

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.

Results of Substance Abuse Among Veterans

Homelessness is often caused by substance abuse

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.

Veterans have a higher suicide rate than civilians

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.

II. Substance Abuse Treatment for Veterans

VA Services for Substance Abuse Treatment

The VA benefits package covers all substance abuse treatment at the VA

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.

To get into a substance abuse program, veterans should:

  • Be enrolled in the VA Health Care System: You can apply for enrollment into the VA Health Benefits program by going to their website and then calling or sending in an application. Quickly find out if you are eligible for VA benefits using their Health Benefits Explorer, a quick series of questions to determine eligibility.
  • Contact your local VA and ask for their mental health department: When you get through to the department, ask about their substance use disorder services and options. If you do not know where the closest VA is, call the VA hotline to find out: 1-800-827-1000.

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.

VA Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Services
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

Substance Abuse Treatment Outside the VA

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.

Click your state from the list below, then input your zip code to find rehabs near you

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York State
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Payment Assistance For Veterans

VA health benefits cover treatment provided in the VA

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.

The Veterans Choice program provides healthcare benefits outside of the VA facilities

VA benefits do not include services outside of the VA. However, the Veterans Choice 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.

There are non-profit organizations that may be able to help with payments

  • Veterans Healing Initiative: This is the only nonprofit in the U.S. specifically dedicated to helping veterans access substance abuse programs. Their hotline is (855) 247-8500.
  • Operation Homefront: This non-profit company is dedicated to helping veterans in whatever manner they may need, including financial assistance that could allow veterans to enter treatment if they need to.
  • Veterans Resource Centers of America: This organization is a community-based veterans service agency serving a handful of western states including California, Nevada, and Arizona. They help veterans find affordable housing and possibly mortgage-free options as well as providing other services that could help offset a veteran’s monthly expenses.

Payment assistance options are available for those who qualify

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

Additional Resources

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.

Additional Resources for Veterans
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

III. Take Action

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.

If you need help, start by taking one of the following steps:

  • Speak with your current VA healthcare contact
  • Call the VA hotline and find out what services are available near you. Their number is 1-800-827-1000.
  • If you want to find services outside the VA, use our database to find suitable rehabs near you