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Veterans and Addiction Treatment

Active-duty military members and Veterans often face a number of challenges when readjusting to civilian life. For some, this can lead to drug or alcohol use as a way of coping with trauma, stress, or other mental health concerns.1 If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction or other mental health issues, it’s important to seek help. Specialized Veteran treatment centers exist to address the unique needs of Veterans.

Veterans and Addiction

Addiction, also referred to as a substance use disorder (SUD), is a chronic brain disease that leads to compulsive drug-seeking behaviors and continued substance use despite the negative impacts it has on a person’s life.2 People who struggle with addiction are usually not able to simply stop using substances, even if they want to.2

Addiction is complex and has many causes, but Veterans may be more vulnerable to addiction due to the nature of their work. More than 1 out of 10 Veterans has been diagnosed with an SUD.3. Some of the reasons Veterans might develop an addiction can include the following:3–5

  • Chronic pain
  • Trauma
  • Culture shock related to returning home
  • Multiple deployments
  • Combat exposure or combat-related injuries
  • Amputations or phantom limb
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
  • Having a mental health condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression
  • A lack of housing.

Veterans and Alcohol

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 4 out of 5 Veterans diagnosed with an SUD had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the previous year, or around 1 million Veterans.6 Alcohol misuse is common among active-duty service members, and these unhealthy drinking habits can continue long after military service has ended. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 65% of Veterans who enter treatment programs say that alcohol is the substance they use most.3 This percentage is nearly double the general population.3

Military members’ attitudes toward alcohol plays a strong role in the development of unhealthy drinking patterns, with one survey showing that those who viewed alcohol use as the norm or part of the military culture were 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely to struggle with excessive alcohol use.7


Veteran Drug Misuse

Drug abuse, especially opioid misuse, is a serious concern for many Veterans. In 2019, 595,000 Veterans struggled with opioid misuse and 1 out of 4 Veterans (343,000 people) with an SUD had an illicit drug use disorder.6 Illicit drugs include substances such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, stimulants, and hallucinogens.

Benzodiazepines, a sedative-hypnotic drug used to treat anxiety, are also a concern. One study indicated that they should not be used to treat PTSD in Veterans as they greatly increase the risk of suicide in this population.8 Further, Veterans with PTSD are more likely than Vets without mental health disorders to not only be prescribed sedative-hypnotics or opioids in the first place, but to get higher doses and earlier refills of these medicines as well.9

All of these concerns can fuel the cycle of addiction, especially if improperly managed. It’s also important to be aware that taking opioids and benzodiazepines together has been associated with an increased risk of overdose and death.10

Opioids are often prescribed to Veterans to help manage migraines or chronic pain from physical injuries.9 Around 9% of Veterans report having severe pain, compared with 6.4% of the general population.3 Although opioids may be effective for pain, they can easily lead to misuse and addiction, which can be an even more serious concern for those who have a co-occurring mental health condition.3,9

Additionally, prescription opioid misuse can lead to abuse of heroin, an illegal yet often easier to obtain and cheaper opioid drug.11 Opioid overdose rates in Veterans increased from 14% in 2010 to 21% in 2016, with most of those deaths caused by heroin and synthetic opioids, not opioids used for pain relief.3

Veterans and Co-Occurring Disorders

A co-occurring disorder, also known as dual diagnosis, means a person has an SUD and another mental health condition. Co-occurring disorders are common among Veterans. In 2019, around 481,000 Veterans aged 18 and older had a co-occurring disorder.6

Veteran PTSD and substance abuse are closely linked. PTSD is one of the most common co-occurring disorders in Veterans, with more than 2 out of 10 Veterans having both PTSD and an SUD.12 Other disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or adjustment disorders, are also common. One study indicates that 82% to 93% of Veterans who returned from Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom had a dual diagnosis.9 Veterans with an SUD were 3 to 4 times more likely to have PTSD or depression.9 In fact, fewer than 1% of Veterans with an SUD did not have another co-occurring disorder.9

The Effect of Veteran Substance Use on Loved Ones

Having a loved one in the military can greatly affect your mental health. Spouses and children may eagerly await the return of a deployed loved one only to feel as though a changed person has entered their lives. Children may act out or have trouble in school as they get used to their loved one being home again.13 The stress of deployment, moving often, and military culture, as well as challenging transitions when the Veteran returns home can be a reason that family members might seek professional help for their own mental health or addiction issues.13,14

Drug and Alcohol Rehab for Veterans

Specialized Veteran detox and rehab centers can address the unique and multiple needs of Veterans. Veteran-only treatment can offer a safe place to process and work through complex issues, including PTSD and trauma, in the presence of other Veterans who know what it’s like to be in your shoes.

Some common features of Veteran rehab programs can include:9,13

  • Specially trained mental health staff who understand military culture
  • Specialized dual diagnosis care.
  • Behavioral therapies to address trauma, stress, and other underlying causes of addiction, as well as teach you skills to cope.
  • Medicines to ease withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and help you avoid relapse.

Insurance Coverage for Veteran Rehab

You can often use insurance to pay for addiction help. Veteran insurance programs can include TRICARE, VA health care benefits, and the VA Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA).15 If you don’t have health insurance through the VA or other Veterans benefits, you can get insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace.15

AAC accepts different types of insurance specifically for Veterans, including TRICARE, to help cover the costs of our rehab programs for Veterans. You can verify your insurance online to see if it covers some or all of the cost of treatment.

How to Find Rehab for Veterans Near Me

To find Veteran-specific treatment programs, you can talk to your doctor or use the VA’s interactive map of SUD treatment programs. Additionally, American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of evidence-based addiction treatment with treatment tracks designed especially for Veterans.

In fact, AAC’s Desert Hope Treatment Center offers a Veteran-focused treatment program called The Rally Point: AAC that is uniquely designed to address the multiple needs of Veterans, including treatment for co-occurring disorders. While this facility is located in Las Vegas NV, AAC works with Veterans all across the nation and we can be reached 24/7 at or through text.

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