April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and this is an issue that is especially relevant to so many veterans. There are many reasons veterans in particular can often be prone to misusing alcohol.
One aspect that increases the likelihood of a veteran misusing alcohol is that they are often predisposed to it as a part of their military experience. In fact, did you know that medical expenses related to alcohol use by military personnel average nearly $425 million per year?1
Perhaps alcohol is used as a bonding tool or even a team-building exercise, or maybe for others, it’s seen as an escape route from handling a difficult experience. Either way, it’s something that most service members are familiar with before they even leave the military.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism demonstrates just how prevalent the alcohol culture is for military personnel:
Frequent heavy drinking, defined as consuming five or more drinks on one or more occasions per week, occurs among a substantial proportion of U.S. military personnel and varies as a function of military demographic characteristics. In a large-scale survey, Bray and Hourani (2005) found that the prevalence of frequent heavy drinking in the military from 1980 through 2005 ranged from 15 to 20 percent.2
15 to 20 percent.
But what happens once somebody leaves the military? The difficulty of this transition is well documented, and it affects most veterans in some way or another. Veterans are thrust into a very different world as civilians, and must learn to adapt to a life that is very different from the one they have known during their service.
Veterans have to find a job based on a resume from military service that’s filled with terms civilians can’t comprehend, they’re forced to find an identity that isn’t based on rank or MOS, and for some, they have to come to terms with the mental effects of combat.
In fact, according to the NIAAA, combat and alcohol abuse have a very strong correlation.
In one population-based study of 88,235 veterans returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Milliken and colleagues (2007) found that 12 to 15 percent of veterans endorsed problematic alcohol use in the 3 to 6 months following their return from combat. These data suggest that alcohol misuse occurs among a substantial number of veterans who are exposed to combat-related traumatic stress and highlight the importance of understanding the relationships between stressful military experiences (e.g., combat and military sexual trauma) and alcohol misuse.3
Not only that, but 60 to 80 percent of Vietnam veterans seeking treatment for PTSD have an alcohol use problem as well, according to the VA.
It doesn’t seem surprising then, that veterans often turn to a familiar substance that was ingrained in their military experience – alcohol.
Alcohol is often used to self-medicate, and to “numb” the painful thoughts and feelings associated with mental trauma. However, this is a double-edged sword, because while alcohol may limit one from having to relive the emotional pain of a traumatic experience, it also encourages avoidance. This avoidance doesn’t help solve the problem, it usually makes it worse.
This month, DVNF wants to help raise awareness of the effects alcohol has on veterans – not only veterans in transition, but also veterans with PTSD and homeless veterans who are especially prone to substance abuse.
Please help us spread the word this April. We want to make sure that the men and women who served in our defense are equipped with the knowledge and resources they need to seek treatment. There’s no shame in getting help, and for those suffering from a substance abuse problem, treatment can ultimately save your life!
Please visit the VA’s Veterans Alcohol and Drug Dependence Rehabilitation Program for more information on getting help.