Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances among veterans. Ease of access and the unique stressors of military life have led many active duty service members to cope with alcohol. This habit can lead to dependence and addiction that can carry over into a veteran’s civilian life–with severe consequences. Sunrise Veterans Health offers alcohol rehab services specifically for those who have served our country.
Alcoholism and Veterans
Over the last few decades, alcoholism among our veterans has become increasingly worse. Many veterans drink to cope with the trauma they experienced while serving or with symptoms of untreated mental health disorders. However, the fact is drinking does not make these issues better–and can make them much worse over time. Excessive drinking can also create new problems in a veteran’s social and physical well-being.
Alcoholism is linked to many chronic health issues, like heart and liver disease, obesity, and increased risk of certain cancers. Alcoholism can also disrupt their social health, as relationships can become strained. Additionally, work problems may arise, and legal issues related to drinking can occur.
PTSD and Alcoholism in Veterans
The mental, emotional, and physical effects of military service can leave their marks on a person for a lifetime. These effects can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition that can negatively impact many areas of a person’s life. The effects can also lead to alcoholism, as veterans turn to anything to help them cope with their symptoms.
Common symptoms of PTSD include:
- Flashbacks or nightmares of traumatic events
- Feelings of guilt, shame, or worthlessness
- Self-destructive behaviors
Veterans and Alcohol Statistics
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, roughly 25% of soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were diagnosed with mental health disorders upon returning home. These included PTSD, depression, anxiety, or a chemical dependency. Between 11% and 20% of those who fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom live with PTSD.
Too often, alcohol consumption becomes a coping mechanism for many veterans living with PTSD or other mental health disorders. Nearly 23% of male veterans have reported participating in binge drinking or consuming 5 alcoholic drinks in 2 hours. Approximately 14% of female veterans have binged, consuming four alcoholic drinks in 2 hours.
Why Do Veterans Cope by Drinking Alcohol?
Military service members often experience situations that the average person does not. From deployment to isolation to injuries to military sexual trauma, these experiences can trigger the onset of specific mental health disorders. To cope with these situations, many veterans use alcohol to mask symptoms of trauma or other mental health issues.
When someone has a mental health condition, like PTSD, as well as an addiction to alcohol, this is called a dual diagnosis. Having a dual diagnosis makes a veteran more likely to commit suicide, which is why it is so important to seek help when necessary. Many treatment centers treat both addictions to alcohol and offer mental illness support at the same time.
The Physical and Emotional Impact of Alcoholism on Veterans
Frequent use of alcohol can have an enormous impact on a person. Alcohol dependence can change how the brain works, making an individual crave alcohol to feel normal. When a person drinks alcohol, it reduces the chemicals in their brain that naturally help them feel happy, relaxed, and deal with stress. Alcoholism can also cause other physical effects, like high blood pressure and liver damage.
Veterans with PTSD or other mental health symptoms will find that they will only become more depressed or anxious as their alcoholism worsens. Worsening mental health symptoms might lead veterans to have thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Sadly, an estimated 20 veterans commit suicide in the United States every day. Hence, dual diagnosis treatment for mental health and substance use disorders is imperative to improve their mental health.
The Impact of Drinking on Veterans
Because alcohol is a depressant, drinking tends to exacerbate and prolong PTSD symptoms like anxiety, depression and insomnia. Alcohol consumption can further affect a veteran’s PTSD. The risks associated with alcohol abuse among veterans include homelessness, suicide, depression, and challenges in the workplace or at home.
Signs of Alcoholism in Veterans
For many veterans, it can be challenging to realize they have a problem with alcohol. Drinking is often a big part of socializing with fellow service members while in the military. Therefore, this makes veterans perceive this behavior as an essential part of socializing and relaxing. At a certain point, drinking can become a significant issue.
Experiencing 1 or more of the following symptoms means a person likely suffers from alcoholism and needs rehab:
- Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking
- Having a strong, undeniable urge to drink
- Having problems in family life, personal relationships, or work performance due to drinking
- Giving up things a person used to enjoy in order to drink instead
- Drinking to deal with depression or anxiety
- Needing to drink more and more in order to feel the effects of the alcohol
- Trying to drink less or stop altogether but being unable to do so
- Having withdrawal symptoms, like shaking, sweating, nausea, or vomiting, when stopping drinking
Veterans’ Alcohol Rehab Options
Fortunately, no matter how long someone has been abusing alcohol or how severe the addiction is, effective rehab options are available for veterans. Alcoholism in veterans can be more complex due to underlying mental health conditions. Thus, so it is best to choose a treatment facility that specializes in the care of veterans. At Sunrise Veterans, we are proud to offer a full range of treatment options to support our men and women who have served.
Treatment options at Sunrise Veterans Health include:
What Happens During Alcohol Rehab for Veterans?
During veterans’ alcohol rehab, they live in a treatment facility with other veterans dealing with alcohol addiction. Alcohol rehab facilities are an inpatient level of care. This means veteran patients reside within the same space where they get treatment.
Additionally, most rehab programs last for about 30 to 90 days, depending on their needs. Patients and their peers will attend group and individual therapy during their stay. Here, they will learn healthy coping skills to live without alcohol.
Many veterans with alcohol addiction might feel alone in their struggles. Their loved ones and friends outside of the military might not be able to relate to their issues and experiences. By living in a home-like facility with fellow veterans, they can feel less isolated during recovery.
Peer support is a significant part of veterans’ alcohol rehab. A sense of belonging and community after rehab in support groups is crucial to a successful recovery for veterans.
What Happens After Veterans’ Alcohol Rehab?
Inpatient alcohol rehab helps patients get and stay sober during early recovery. During rehab, they might uncover underlying mental health issues driving their addiction to alcohol. After veterans’ alcohol rehab, they might continue outpatient treatment to address these underlying problems.
Outpatient treatment options for veterans could be a step down in their level of care, including:
- Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
- Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
- Outpatient Group or Individual Therapy
- Sober Living Homes
- 12-Step Peer Support Groups
- Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Begin Alcohol Rehab for Veterans Today
If you are a veteran struggling with alcoholism, Sunrise Veterans Health can help you recover. Our veteran rehab plans help address both your alcoholism and underlying mental health conditions, like PTSD. Treating both of these conditions can help you achieve sobriety and live a healthy life in recovery.
Sunrise Veterans will be there to support you every step of the way with evidence-based treatment options. Visit our admissions page to learn more about our programs, or call to speak with a staff member on how we can help you regain control of your life.