Skip to content

Veteran Substance Abuse Stats & How to Get Help | Holland Pathways

We owe so much to our veterans, but we don’t always give them the honor, support, and care that they deserve. Recent census data shows that there are about 18 million veterans and an additional 2 million active-duty or reserve service members – making up just 5% of the population. Due to our own ignorance – and also the stigma within the military – veterans in need of help for addiction or mental health issues often suffer in silence. The statistics are clear, however: Substance abuse among veterans is a real problem. If you or a loved one is a veteran struggling with addiction, you should know that you are not alone – and there is help.

Veterans & Substance Abuse

Despite the military’s zero-tolerance policy on illicit drug use, substance use disorder continues to be a problem among active-duty and reserve service members, and veterans alike. (Of course, the military only discourages and does not prohibit drinking alcohol.) One recent study found that more than 10% of the veterans entering the VA system met the criteria to be diagnosed with a substance use disorder – nearly double the rate of substance use disorder in veterans

Veterans, Mental Health & Addiction

Why do veterans suffer from addiction at rates higher than civilians? It’s certainly not because of any lack of discipline or willpower. The answer lies in the nature of addiction itself. In most people – and especially in veterans – addiction is only the surface-level symptom of deeper emotional wounds. Put simply, people in desperate need of relief from emotional pain turn to drugs or alcohol to cope, and addiction is the result.

Veterans suffer from substance use disorder more often than civilians because they experience trauma at higher rates than civilians. For example, one study found that 14% to 16% of U.S. service members deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq have PTSD or depression. Among the general population, roughly 60% will experience PTSD in their lifetime.

In another study, researchers found that among veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom and did have a substance use disorder, 82% to 93% also received a mental health diagnosis like PTSD. Overall, the study noted, “veterans with an SUD diagnosis were three to four times more likely to receive a PTSD or depression diagnosis.” 

Still, it’s not just PTSD that can spark substance abuse problems in veterans. Depression is a major issue for veterans as well, with nearly 10% of all appointments in the ambulatory military health network linked to a depression diagnosis or symptoms.

Veterans Addiction Treatment

Dual diagnosis veterans addiction treatment heals the underlying causes of substance abuse, so long-term recovery is possible. Upon intake, each client receives a customized treatment plan meant to meet their needs and goals. Each day in residential addiction treatment for veterans includes a variety of therapies best-suited to that purpose. For example, clients might undergo one-on-one counseling, attend group therapy, or experience CBT or DBT work to help manage overwhelming emotions. Ultimately, the goal is not just to help veterans stop drinking or using drugs. Rather, by healing the underlying emotional wounds or mental health issues, we can make substance abuse unappealing and unnecessary. 

If you are a veteran struggling with addiction or know someone who is, the VA is not your only option for receiving substance abuse treatment. Call our caring team of experts or send us a confidential chat to learn about other options to make paying for private veterans addiction treatment affordable and easy, so you can start a new path to freedom.