What is an alcohol problem?
Some people may drink occasionally, but can also unwind or enjoy social events without drinking. However, other people 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. If you find yourself needing to drink, you may have an alcohol problem. Drinking too much 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.
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 alcohol helps reduce the stress in your life or helps you forget a problem, painful memory, or traumatic event for a while. 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. Long term abuse of alcohol can cause:
- Liver disease
- High blood pressure
- Stomach problems
- Harm to unborn children (in pregnant women)
- Complications with other illnesses
“It’s not like I would drink to excess every night of the week, but on the weekends and at certain gatherings I didn’t know when to stop.”
Drinking too much and too often can lead to alcohol addiction. If you are addicted to alcohol, you may feel like you need to drink just to get by. Alcohol addiction is a repeated pattern of drinking as a way to solve problems. While some people with alcohol addiction may sometimes go for weeks without drinking too much, they will often times revert to excessive alcohol consumption after a bad day or stressful incident.
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 effect
- 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 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 willpower 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 treatment works.
“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.
One of the most effective forms of treatment for problems with alcohol is therapy, either alone with a therapist or in a group, and sometimes in conjunction with anti-addiction medications. Therapy can help you maintain your motivation to seek a better life, avoid occasions that may trigger abuse of alcohol, manage your cravings, and strengthen your relationships. Medications can help manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce your desire to drink. You and your doctor will work together to determine what combination of treatment strategies will work best for your situation.
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 that you’re having a tough time with alcohol. 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 screening quiz. This quiz won’t be able to tell you for sure whether or not you have an alcohol problem, but it may 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 connect with helpful 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 family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating alcohol abuse in Veterans or can refer you to someone who does
- Local self-help groups, such as a 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 advisor
Explore these resources for more information about alcohol problems in Veterans.
Learn more about how problems with alcohol may be related to other issues such as relationship problems, depression, trouble sleeping, chronic pain, and posttraumatic stress.
Take an anonymous and confidential online assessment to evaluate the alcohol-related symptoms you are experiencing and hear from other Veterans and service members dealing with similar issues.
VA’s Substance Abuse page
Read more about VA’s programs and services for Veterans dealing with alcohol problems.
If you are a combat Veteran or experienced any sexual trauma during your military service, 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.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
This website will allow you to search for VA treatment programs located near you that address alcohol problems. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s treatment programs.
For meeting information, contact a local A.A. 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.