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What is an alcohol problem?

Some people may drink occasionally, but can also unwind or enjoy social events without drinking. Others may regularly drink above recommended limits (one drink per day for women and older people, two drinks per day for men) or may feel like they need alcohol in order to relax, have a good time, or feel better.

Drinking can cause problems with your relationships at home and at work, lead to poor judgment and dangerous behavior, and sometimes cause legal issues. Driving and doing other activities while drunk may lead you to hurt or kill yourself or others. If you find yourself needing to drink or experiencing negative consequences as a result of alcohol, you may have a drinking problem.

Some Veterans turn to alcohol as a way to try to deal with problems in their daily lives and use it for recreation, to calm down, or to fall asleep. Maybe you feel that alcohol helps to reduce the stress in your life or helps you forget a problem, painful memory, or traumatic event from your military service. Retirement, the death of a spouse or good friend, leaving your home, losing your job, and being diagnosed with a disease all can trigger emotions that lead some people to abuse alcohol.

“When I got back, especially at first, it was impossible to turn my brain off and fall asleep at night. Drinking was a quick and easy way to combat that, but also one that caused a lot more problems later on.”

Some effects of alcohol are physical. Over time, unhealthy drinking can cause:

  • Liver disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Stomach problems
  • Harm to unborn children (in pregnant women)
  • Complications with other illnesses

What is alcohol addiction?

Drinking too much and too often may indicate that a person has an alcohol addiction. If you're addicted to alcohol, you may feel like you need to drink just to get by. People with this addiction often drink more than they intend to, crave alcohol, and have trouble stopping even if drinking causes problems for them. They may spend so much time drinking, making plans to drink, or recovering from drinking that it negatively affects their work, school, or relationships. They may not recognize, or may deny, that drinking is causing problems. Some people with alcohol addiction may stop drinking for weeks or months. But without treatment or engaging in recovery activities, these people will often revert to a pattern of problematic alcohol abuse.

What are the signs of alcohol problems?

You might have an alcohol problem if you experience three or more of the following alcohol-related symptoms in a year:

  • Not being able to quit drinking or control how much you drink
  • Needing to drink more to feel the same effects as before
  • Feeling sick to your stomach, sweaty, shaky, or anxious when you stop drinking
  • Spending a lot of time drinking and recovering from drinking
  • Giving up other activities so you can drink
  • Trying to quit drinking or cut back, but not being able to
  • Continuing to drink even though drinking causes you problems
  • Trying to hide your drinking from others
  • Having "blackouts," where you don’t remember what happened while drinking
  • Having friends and family be concerned about your drinking

What is the treatment for alcohol problems and addiction?

If you are having problems with alcohol, it doesn’t mean that you are weak or unable to change. Reducing the negative effects of your drinking by cutting down or quitting often takes more than will power or good intentions. There are many effective resources and treatments that can help you quit. Veterans of all ages, backgrounds, and eras have gotten treatment for alcohol problems and achieved long-term recovery.

“Until I went in and talked to someone, I had no idea just how many areas of my life were being affected by booze. I feel so much more in control of my life now – almost everything was very repairable.”

Your doctor may decide you need detoxification (detox) before you start treatment. Alcohol detox uses medicine to help you safely stop drinking and manage the symptoms of withdrawal.

Recovery is best achieved through a combination of professional care and participantion in mutual support groups, followed by management of the problem over time. You and your doctor will work together to determine what combination of treatment strategies will work best for your situation. One of the most effective forms of treatment for problems with alcohol is therapy, either one-on-one with an addiction specialist or in a group. Some counseling sessions may also include your family. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce your desire to drink.

These treatments can help you develop the skills you need to stop or reduce drinking, manage cravings, build your support system, work to set reachable goals, and cope with or avoid triggers that might cause relapse. Treatment doesn’t just focus on alcohol; it also addresses ways to improve other parts of your life. Having satisfying relationships, work environments, and physical wellness can help you stay sober.

What can I do if I think I have a problem with alcohol?

Your family and friends may be the first to notice the signs of alcohol abuse and the negative effects of your excessive drinking. You may want to turn to them when you are ready to talk about change. It can be helpful to share your experiences, and they may be able to provide support and help you find treatment that works for you.

You can also take this confidential and anonymous self-assessment  This set of questions isn't designed to tell you for sure whether you have an alcohol problem, but it can indicate whether it would be a good idea to see a professional for further assessment.

Take the next step: Make the connection.

Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with proven resources and effective treatments for problems with alcohol and find solutions that improve their lives. It can be difficult to reduce or quit drinking on your own, so talking to your family and friends can be a first step. You can also consider connecting with:

  • Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to treat alcohol abuse even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • Local support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans and has programs for overcoming alcohol problems.
  • A spiritual or religious adviser

Explore these resources for more information about Veterans experiencing problems with alcohol.

Learn more about other concerns that may occur alongside problems with alcohol, such as relationship problems, depression, trouble sleeping, chronic pain, and posttraumatic stress.

VA’s Substance Use Page
Read more about VA’s programs and services for Veterans dealing with substance misuse.

NIAAA Rethinking Drinking
Learn more about alcohol and the recommended limits for alcohol use.

Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help
This guide is written for individuals, and their family and friends, who are looking for options to address alcohol problems. It is intended as a resource to understand what treatment choices are available and what to consider when selecting among them.

Take an online workshop with interactive exercises to evaluate your own substance use and hear from other Veterans and service members dealing with alcohol abuse or drug problems.

Alcoholics Anonymous
For meeting information, contact a local AA resource that provides meeting times and locations. Use this link for a list of meeting resources by state and province in the U.S. and Canada.

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.