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The Increased Risk of Alcohol and Drug Abuse among Military Vets


It’s a bit of a Catch 22: being able to “hold your liquor” is the sign of a tough man, but turning to alcohol time and again to drown the pain of battle memories turns you into a shadow of a man. For male and female military personnel and veterans, there is an increased risk of alcohol and drug abuse for multiple reasons, including military culture and stress-related mental health issues such as PTSD.

Male vets have always been far more likely to abuse alcohol than the general population—especially after returning home from traumatic battle situations. With more women in the military than in times past, female vets are also reporting higher percentages of heavy or binge drinking, though female military vets prefer to abuse more prescription drugs than alcohol.

The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the battlefront frequently haunt returning military personnel, turning what should be a normal civilian life into a strange shadowland, where loud noises, chemical odors, or simple confrontations can trigger severe fight-or-flight reactions. For some, these triggers produce such vivid stress reactions that the vet will have difficulty sleeping, carrying on healthy relationships, or even functioning without the use of alcohol or drugs to dull their reactions to the triggers and alarms. If the vet has already been abusing alcohol or prescription drugs as part of the military culture or because of stress during service, addiction recovery can be even more difficult.

What is startling is that a growing number of doctors, lawyers, and other professionals are also seeking rehabilitation for alcoholism. While it’s easy to see why military personnel would be more likely to suffer from PTSD and other stress-related disorders and thereby turn to alcohol and drugs for relief, what is going on that even professionals in non-combat situations or careers are also joining the ranks of the functionally (or non-functionally) alcoholic?

It may be that as the negative stigma of mental health disorders—along with alcoholism and drug addiction—has reversed, more people are seeking help, including military vets and other professionals. Still, there are many military men and women who do not see a way out of the pain they are suffering other than to drown it in alcohol or mind- and mood-altering drugs. How does one erase horrible battlefield memories?

Without intervention, vets with alcohol and drug addiction can end up divorced and alone, jobless, and even homeless.

Fortunately, there is help. San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Center offers programs for male and female military personnel and vets who are dealing with alcohol and drug abuse and addiction. Please visit our Homepage to view our inpatient and outpatient programs and to get a free, confidential assessment.