Same-day admissions available. Call Now.

Alcoholism in Military Veterans: Statistics, Causes, and Consequences

Written by Brennan Valeski

& Medically Reviewed by Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

Medically Reviewed

Up to Date

This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, help is available. Speak with a Recovery Advocate by calling 561-340-7269 now.

The rigors of combat can leave a lasting impact on military veterans. For some, the weight of these experiences may drive them to seek solace in substances like alcohol. While alcohol can provide temporary relief, it can also pave the way for more severe problems, including addiction.

Statistics on Alcohol Misuse Among Military Veterans 

When we talk about alcohol misuse in the military, we are essentially referring to alcohol use disorders (AUDs) among veterans. AUD is the clinical term for alcohol addiction. Studies and statistics shed light on the prevalence of AUDs within veteran populations. Here are some key findings:

  • A nationally representative survey of over 3,000 veterans revealed that at some point in their lives, 42.2% had experienced an AUD, with 14.8% displaying symptoms of an AUD within the past year
  • The same study found that younger male veterans were at a notably higher risk of AUDs.
  • Recent research also indicates that Gulf War veterans were 33% more likely to have an AUD compared to non-deployed veterans, while Iraq/Afghanistan veterans had a 36% increased likelihood of AUDs.

Contributing Factors to Alcohol Abuse in Veterans 

Veterans may turn to alcohol for various reasons. Some may use it as a way to cope with depression or anxiety, while others might see it as a means of fitting in or escaping from their problems.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

The connection between PTSD and alcohol misuse in veterans is significant. Veterans grappling with PTSD often turn to alcohol as a way to self-medicate and numb their emotional pain. Moreover, experiencing multiple traumatic events over a lifetime is linked to a heightened risk of developing an alcohol use disorder in veterans. Statistics suggest that 55–68% of veterans with PTSD have an AUD, a rate significantly higher than those without PTSD.

Depression 

Feelings of depression often lead veterans to seek refuge in alcohol. Studies have shown that veterans may be compelled to drink, especially when grappling with PTSD, to alleviate the symptoms of depression.

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) 

While research on military sexual trauma (MST) has primarily focused on female veterans, it’s essential to recognize that this risk factor can affect individuals of any gender. Studies have found that women who reported alcohol consumption were more likely to have experienced MST. Furthermore, these women may turn to alcohol as a means of coping with the emotional toll of MST and depression.

Consequences of Alcohol Addiction Among Veterans 

Though alcohol might seem like a temporary reprieve for veterans, it can lead to significant adverse effects.

Homelessness 

Alcohol addiction often takes a toll on veterans’ ability to maintain employment and meet their financial responsibilities, eventually leading to homelessness. Research has shown that alcohol misuse significantly raises the risk of experiencing homelessness for six or more months. Behaviors like driving under the influence are also linked to homelessness.

Self-Harm and Suicide 

Veterans struggling with alcohol addiction face an increased risk of self-harm and suicide. Research indicates that veterans dealing with an AUD are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide at some point in their lives.

Strained Relationships 

Alcohol misuse frequently leads to conflict in veterans’ personal relationships. Whether it’s growing apart from friends and loved ones or engaging in arguments with spouses and children due to alcohol-related issues, relationships can deteriorate.

The VA’s Stance on Alcoholism as a Disability 

The VA provides support and benefits for veterans dealing with service-related disabilities. Mental health conditions such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety may make veterans eligible to receive disability benefits. If a veteran struggles with an alcohol use disorder alongside PTSD resulting from their service, they may qualify for benefits. However, it’s essential to note that veterans are not typically eligible for disability benefits solely based on alcohol use. To explore eligibility further, contact the VA for detailed information.

Seeking Alcohol Addiction Recovery for Military Veterans 

For military veterans seeking alcohol addiction treatment in Florida, The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health is here to help.  We offer inpatient and outpatient programming, and we can treat co-occurring disorders, including PTSD. Reach out to one of our Recovery Advocates today to learn more or initiate your journey toward recovery.

View Sources

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2023. Accessed May 12, 2023.

Fuehrlein, Brian; Mota, Natalie; Arias, Albert; Trevisan, Louis; Kachadourian, Lorig; Krystal, John; Southwick, Steven; Pietrzak, Robert. “The burden of alcohol use disorders in US military veterans: results from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study.” Addiction, October 2016. Accessed May 12, 2023.

Helen Louise Kelsall; Millawage Supun Dilara Wijesinghe; Mark Christopher Creamer; Dean Philip McKenzie; Andrew Benjamin Forbes; Matthew James Page; Malcolm Ross Sim. “Alcohol Use and Substance Use Disorders in Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq War Veterans Compared With Nondeployed Military Personnel.” Epidemiologic Reviews, 2015. Accessed May 12, 2023.

Creech, Suzannah; Borsari, Brian. “Alcohol use, military sexual trauma, expectancies, and coping skills in women veterans presenting to primary care.” Addictive Behaviors, February 2014. Accessed June 14, 2023.

Harris, Taylor; Kintzle, Sara; Wenzel, Suzanne; & Castro, Andrew. “Expanding the Understanding of Risk Behavior Associated With Homelessness Among Veterans.” Military Medicine, September 2017. Accessed June 14, 2023.

McDevitt-Murphy, Meghan; Fields, Jordan; Monahan, Christopher; & Bracken, Katherine. “Drinking motives among heavy-drinking veterans with and without posttraumatic stress disorder.” Addiction Research & Theory, 2015. Accessed June 14, 2023.

Authorship