The last word that probably comes to most people’s minds when they think of veterans is “vulnerable.” Instead, people think of words like “honorable,” “tough,” “brave,” “fearless,” and “selfless” – all of which are undoubtedly true. Yet, when it comes to alcoholism in veterans, the truth is that they are vulnerable. In fact, veterans are one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to the disease of alcoholism.
Understanding Alcoholism in Veterans
In 2017, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that “Compared to their non-veteran counterparts, veterans were more likely to use alcohol (56.6% vs. 50.8% in a 1-month period) and to report heavy use of alcohol (7.5% vs. 6.5% in a 1-month period).” Also, “Sixty-five percent of veterans who enter a treatment program report alcohol as the substance they most frequently misuse, which is almost double that of the general population.” These statistics are emblematic of what makes veterans vulnerable to alcoholism.
The key is not to conflate vulnerability for weakness. Veterans are anything but weak. In fact, it is often because veterans have such conviction of character that they end up struggling with alcoholism longer than they should. Veterans sometimes feel too “proud” to admit that they have a problem. There are also other reasons why veterans are such a susceptible population to alcoholism and other forms of addiction like the stress of deployment, the risk factors involved with their job, and more.
Why Are Veterans Such a Susceptible Population for Alcoholism
One of the reasons that veterans end up struggling more with alcoholism is that they tend to experience more trauma in their lives. This primarily comes from the experiences that they have while on active duty. This trauma can lead to psychological issues and mental health disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), “At some point in their life, 7 out of every 100 Veterans (or 7%) will have PTSD.” Also, “One study found that among Veterans using VA care, 23 out of every 100 (or 23%) had PTSD at some point in their lives, compared to 7 out of every 100 (or 7%) of Veterans who do not use VA for health care.” This means that many veterans are struggling with PTSD outside of mental health care facilities (VA or otherwise). Moreover, many of these veterans are self-medicating with alcohol.
Also, many military members used alcohol as an innocent way to handle stress while on active duty. This coping mechanism then follows them back home and becomes problematic when integrating back into civilian society.
The Importance of Veteran-Specific Addiction and Mental Health Care
One aspect of recovery that can be very important is being able to relate to the other people around you. This is especially true with alcoholism in veterans.
Veteran-specific addiction care is important because only a veteran is going to truly understand what it feels like to go through the traumas of active combat. This is just another layer on top of one person recovering from alcoholism being able to relate to another. Veterans are able to relate because they have been there, so they can relate to the emotional damage that each other has gone through.
It is the concept of one alcoholic helping another becoming one veteran with alcoholism helping another. The more they can relate, the better chances they have of feeling seen, the better chances they have of being honest, and the better chances they have of recovering. Therapy can greatly help with this process.
Alcoholism in Veterans: Getting Them the Treatments and Therapy They Need
Because so many veterans who struggle with alcoholism also struggle with the comorbidity of PTSD, it is important to get them the type of psychological help that they need. It is important to get to the underlying issues that are often responsible for addictive behaviors. As they often say in 12-Step recovery, “alcohol is but a ‘symptom’ of deeper issues.”
Psychotherapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), can be highly beneficial in getting to the root/core causes of a veteran’s trauma. Once these traumas are brought to the surface, then there is a good chance that the negative behaviors associated with them can be positively adjusted, or avoided altogether.
The Recovery Difference at The Phoenix Recovery Center
Here at The Phoenix Recovery Center, we have a clear mission statement: “Empowering individuals and families suffering from addiction and mental health disorders, to celebrate life through lasting solutions.” This mission also applies to the veteran population and their families.
If you are a veteran or know a veteran who is struggling with alcoholism or any other issues of addiction or mental illness, we can help. For more information on treating alcoholism in veterans, please reach out to The Phoenix Recovery Center today at (801) 438-3185.