Menu Close

Tackling Substance Abuse for Veterans

Tackling Substance Abuse for Veterans

Learn more about the danger of substance abuse and how to find resources for substance abuse for veterans near you.


Veterans face many challenges upon returning to civilian life. This includes mental health issues, difficulties transitioning to new careers, and financial stress.

Unfortunately, one of the most common problems they face is substance abuse. Substance abuse for veterans has become a significant issue in recent years. Statistics show that many former service members struggle with addiction to drugs or alcohol.

substance abuse for veterans

Why Do Veterans Struggle with Substance Abuse?

The reasons behind substance abuse for veterans are complex and multifaceted. Many veterans face physical and emotional trauma during their service. They may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with the memories and emotions associated with their experiences.

Additionally, the unique culture and camaraderie of military service can make it difficult for veterans to adjust to civilian life. This often leads to feelings of isolation and depression that can contribute to substance abuse.

How to Combat Substance Abuse for Veterans

Fortunately, there are many resources available to help veterans overcome their addictions and achieve lasting recovery. Some of these include therapy and medication-assisted treatment.

What to Expect from This Article

In this article, we’ll explore the many challenges faced by veterans struggling with substance abuse. We’ll also provide practical guidance and resources for overcoming addiction and reclaiming your life.

Whether you’re a veteran dealing with addiction or you’re a loved one looking for ways to support someone who is, this article will offer valuable insights and tools for achieving lasting wellness and sobriety.

What Is Substance Use Disorder (SUD)?

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a medical condition characterized by the repeated and harmful use of a substance. This includes substances like drugs and alcohol.1
Usage continues despite the negative consequences it has on one’s life. It is a chronic and relapsing condition that affects the brain and behavior. It causes a strong craving for the substance and an inability to control its use.

SUD vs. Substance Abuse

Substance abuse refers to the misuse or overuse of a substance leading to negative consequences. It is a pattern of use that goes beyond what is considered normal or socially acceptable. It may result in problems at work, school, or home, as well as physical or mental health issues.

Substance Abuse for Veterans

Substance abuse for veterans is a particularly prevalent issue currently. This is especially true for veterans who may have been exposed to high levels of stress and trauma during their service.
According to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, veterans are more likely to struggle with substance abuse than the general population. This can include:

Effects of Substance Abuse on Veterans

Substance abuse for veterans can significantly impact their health and well-being. It can also affect their ability to reintegrate into civilian life. It can lead to:
  • Various physical health issues
  • Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD
  • Problems with relationships
  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal issues

How to Address Substance Abuse Among the Veteran Population

To address substance abuse for veterans, a range of treatments and interventions are available. Some of these include counseling, medication-assisted treatment, and peer support programs.
It is important for veterans who are struggling with substance abuse to seek help and support from healthcare professionals. They should also leverage the resources available to them.

Why Do People Turn To Substance Abuse?

There is no single reason why people turn to substance abuse. Some of the most common reasons why people may turn to substance abuse are detailed below.

Pain Relief

Some people may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to alleviate physical or emotional pain. This can include chronic pain or trauma-related symptoms.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure can be a powerful influence, particularly for young people, who may be more likely to experiment with drugs or alcohol to fit in with their peers.

Stress and Anxiety

Stressful life events can lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety, which some people may attempt to manage through substance use. These can include divorce, job loss, or financial difficulties.


Veterans and others who have experienced traumatic events may turn to substance use as a way to cope with the symptoms of PTSD or other trauma-related conditions.


Genetic factors can play a role in addiction, with some people more susceptible to substance use disorders due to their genes.

Mental Health Issues

Individuals with mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, may turn to substance use as a way to self-medicate and alleviate their symptoms.

Environmental Factors

Social and environmental factors can contribute to substance abuse. These can include:
  • Poverty
  • Lack of access to healthcare
  • Exposure to drugs and alcohol

Curiosity and Experimentation

Some people may try drugs or alcohol out of curiosity or as a form of experimentation.

Availability and Accessibility

The availability and accessibility of drugs and alcohol can play a role in substance abuse. This is especially true in substance abuse for veterans since they may have easy access to prescription drugs.

Important Note about Risk Factors

It is important to note that these factors can interact with each other. Not everyone who experiences them will develop a substance use disorder.
Understanding the factors contributing to substance abuse can help healthcare professionals develop effective prevention and treatment strategies for substance abuse for veterans and other individuals struggling with addiction.

Why Are Veterans At Higher Risk Of Developing SUD?

Veterans are at a higher risk of developing substance use disorders and engaging in substance abuse than the general population. This is due to a variety of factors, some of which are detailed below.

Exposure to Traumatic Experiences

Many veterans have been exposed to traumatic experiences during their time in service. This can lead to the development of mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Substance abuse for veterans develops when they these substances as a coping mechanism.

High Levels of Stress

Veterans may experience high levels of stress during their time in service. This can persist even after leaving the military. In substance abuse for veterans, these substances are used to manage stress.

Chronic Pain

Veterans may experience chronic pain due to injuries sustained during their service. Prescription painkillers may be prescribed to manage pain. Unfortunately, this can lead to substance abuse and the development of a SUD.

Accessibility of Prescription Drugs

Many veterans have access to prescription drugs. This includes painkillers and sedatives. These substances are highly addictive and lead to substance abuse for veterans.

Mental Health Issues

Veterans may struggle with mental health issues. Examples include depression, anxiety, and PTSD. These conditions increase the risk of substance abuse for veterans.

Lack of Social Support

Veterans may struggle to reintegrate into civilian life and experience a lack of social support. Substance abuse may be used as a way to cope with feelings of isolation and disconnection.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Veterans may experience co-occurring disorders like PTSD and substance abuse. This can make treatment more complex and challenging.

Cultural Norms

Military culture may normalize heavy drinking and substance use. This can make it more difficult for veterans to recognize and address their substance use disorder. This leads to substance abuse for veterans.

Economic Hardship

Veterans may experience economic hardship. This can contribute to stress and mental health issues that increase the risk of substance abuse.

Importance of Understanding Risk Factors

Understanding the risk factors for substance abuse in veterans is essential. It will help develop effective prevention and treatment strategies for this population.
By addressing the underlying causes of substance abuse or veterans providing comprehensive care that addresses co-occurring disorders, veterans can improve their chances of long-term recovery.

How Common Is Substance Abuse for Veterans?

Substance abuse among veterans is a significant and widespread issue. SAMHSA states veterans are more likely than non-veterans to struggle with substance abuse. They are also more likely to struggle with developing a substance use disorder (SUD).
In a report published in 2020, SAMHSA found that among veterans who received treatment for substance abuse, 68.6% were diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder. About 27.6% were diagnosed with an opioid use disorder, and 25.4% had a stimulant use disorder.2

Scope of Substance Misuse

A study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that approximately 1 in 10 veterans who use VA healthcare services had a diagnosis of SUD in 2016. Alcohol and opioids being the most commonly abused substances.3

Treatment Opportunities For Substance Abuse For Veterans

There are several treatment opportunities available for substance abuse for veterans. Below are some of the most common and effective options.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy can effectively treat substance abuse and SUDs. Common types of behavioral therapy include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). It also includes contingency management.
These therapies can help veterans identify the underlying causes of their substance abuse. It can also help them develop coping strategies to manage cravings and triggers.4

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT involves using medications to treat addiction. Examples of these medications include buprenorphine and naltrexone.
MAT can be particularly effective for veterans who are struggling with opioid addiction. It can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Support Groups

This includes support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). They are a valuable source of support for veterans in recovery.
They provide a safe and supportive environment for veterans to share their experiences. Veterans also receive encouragement and learn from others going through similar struggles.

Residential Treatment Programs

Residential treatment programs provide a structured and supportive environment for veterans to focus on their recovery. These programs typically last 30-90 days. They may include individual and group therapy, medication management, and recreational activities.

Outpatient Treatment Programs

Outpatient treatment programs provide flexible treatment options for veterans who cannot attend residential programs. These programs may include individual and group therapy and medication management. They also include other supportive services.

Veteran-Specific Treatment Programs

These are treatment programs specifically designed to meet the unique needs of veterans. These include those offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These programs may include a range of services, including:
  • Medical care
  • Mental health services
  • Housing assistance
  • Job training
substance abuse for veterans

Veteran-Specific Resources For Substance Abuse For Veterans

There are several veteran-specific resources for substance abuse for veterans. These resources are specifically designed to address the unique challenges that veterans face. This includes the effects of combat exposure, trauma, and other military-related stressors.
Below are some examples of veteran-specific resources for substance abuse for veterans.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Substance Use Disorder Programs

The VA offers a range of substance abuse treatment programs. This includes outpatient and residential treatment options. It also includes medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction.
These programs are available at VA medical centers. They are also available at community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs) nationwide.

Veterans Crisis Line

The Veterans Crisis Line is a confidential, toll-free hotline. It supports veterans in crisis, including those struggling with substance abuse. 


The hotline is staffed by trained professionals who can provide crisis intervention and information. They can also offer referrals to VA and community-based resources.

Vet Center Substance Abuse Counseling

Vet Centers are community-based counseling centers. They provide a range of services to veterans, including substance abuse counseling. These services are confidential and free of charge to eligible veterans.

Military OneSource

Military OneSource is a confidential, 24/7 resource for active-duty service members. It also serves National Guard and Reserve members, veterans, and their families. 


The program provides a range of services, from counseling and referrals to substance abuse treatment programs.

Operation Live Well

Operation Live Well is a comprehensive health and wellness program for veterans. It includes resources for substance abuse prevention and treatment.
The program offers a range of services, including counseling and education. They also include support for veterans and their families.

Find Substance Abuse For Veterans Help At Rise Above Treatment

Are you a veteran who is currently struggling with substance use? If you are, we’ve got some good news for you. Find excellent treatment for substance abuse for veterans at Rise Above Treatment.

Why Rise Above Treatment?

Rise Above Treatment is home to some of the brightest minds in addiction treatment. Our team at Rise Above has been helping people start and maintain their recovery for decades.

We offer a range of treatment options that are patient-specific and designed to help you get better and live an addiction-free life. 


Reach out to us today for more information about treatment for substance abuse for veterans. Let us help you begin your journey to recovery.

Table of Contents

Are you ready to Rise Above your mental health and addiction challenges?

Reach out to us today. Let us provide the support and guidance needed for sustainable recovery and wellness, allowing you to lead the happy, healthy, and fulfilling life you deserve.