Members of the armed forces face many challenges each day, from navigating life-threatening situations to constantly pushing their bodies and minds past their limits. There is no question that the stresses of such an intense line of duty are immense. Commonly, many service members look to any outlet to process these stresses. Unfortunately, this often results in using alcohol as a coping mechanism. Similarly, the normalization of alcohol use can follow each individual from active duty to civilian life.
The fact of the matter is the prevalence of alcohol use, and alcohol use disorder (AUD) is common among veterans. Therefore, knowing when to seek professional help to overcome the use of alcohol is necessary to promote a healthy civilian life.
Alcohol Use in Veterans
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 1.3 million veterans struggle with a substance use disorder (SUD). About four out of five use alcohol, making it the most common substance abused among the veteran population.
However, while these statistics reflect those who struggle with AUD, it does not reflect those who may use alcohol in conjunction with other substances. Additionally, they do not highlight how the effects of alcohol use can exacerbate the effects of mental health disorders, trauma, or other challenges that veterans face daily. After all, about one in three veterans who seek treatment for a SUD also struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Therefore, veterans require a personalized and nuanced approach to recovery and sobriety.
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The Challenges Veterans Face
Veterans have a unique perspective when it comes to their life experiences. Similarly, the use of alcohol as a coping strategy can result from several different stressors. For some, alcohol use can develop directly due to the incredible stress that members of the armed forces face daily. Veterans face various emotional and physical challenges, from intense training to personal injury, trauma from an active warzone, or the grief of losing a brother or sister in arms. The use of alcohol to push down these difficult emotions, feelings of loss or trauma, or the anxieties of one’s line of duty is common due to these trials.
Others may find that the military culture, and how it particularly normalizes the use of alcohol, is very different than civilian life. The regular use of alcohol on base or among peers is not only common but actively accepted, with intense drinking cultures established during one’s time in the military. More often than not, those serving on active duty are not considering the health repercussions that may result from heavy drinking. As a result, it can be difficult for veterans to recognize the signs of AUD, even after transitioning to civilian life.
Identifying the Need for Change
With the prevalence of AUD among veterans, it is necessary to understand when alcohol use becomes problematic and requires professional help. This is true for both veterans and the loved ones of veterans. Just as veterans have a unique perspective regarding their life experiences and use of alcohol, asking personal, direct questions can illuminate when professional help for overcoming AUD may be necessary.
Some effective questions to ask oneself or a veteran loved one include:
- Does alcohol feel necessary to cope with stress?
- Is the use of alcohol constantly on one’s mind?
- Do you find it difficult to feel “normal” without drinking?
- Have you ever been approached about your drinking before, or have you questioned your use of alcohol?
- Did you ever experience negative consequences directly resulting from the use of alcohol, such as legal ramifications, personal mistakes, injury, blackouts, or intense hangovers, and continue to use alcohol anyway?
- Do you feel anxious or depressed whenever you do not have access to alcohol?
- Have you continued to drink, despite the use of alcohol bringing feelings of anxiety or depression?
- Does alcohol feel necessary to placate traumatic feelings or help push down difficult feelings?
- Have you experienced withdrawal symptoms when unable to engage with alcohol?
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There is nothing easy about overcoming AUD, and veterans of the armed forces demand a unique approach to address its effects effectively. Engaging in veteran-specific programs is essential for deconstructing stigmas and providing personalized healing programs directed at veterans’ unique challenges. Connecting with peers through treatment engagement is also essential for recovery. It can be difficult for many veterans to connect with others who have not lived through similar life experiences. Veteran programs address one’s unique needs and create a community based on healing to address the effects of military culture in civilian life.
Understanding that treatment and support are available for struggling veterans is essential. Veteran programs, coupled with trauma-informed treatment options, are crucial to help veterans address and overcome the use of alcohol or alcohol addiction for a healthier, sober civilian life.
Alcohol use is common among veterans, but we at Hawaii Island Recovery are here to help. Our commitment to veterans begins with our dedicated, trauma-informed staff and extends to our entire veteran program and community. We are devoted to creating a safe space for peers and professionals to address veterans’ needs and goals directly. Our effective Hawaii sober living and recovery center is committed to facilitating this community and a sense of camaraderie. We personalize your recovery journey each step of the way. Individual and group therapy, cultural experiences, and natural and ocean-based therapies are just the beginning of the therapeutic options available. For more information, call us today at (866) 390-5070.