Veterans discuss how they attempted to cope with stress, nightmares, and other problems by turning to alcohol or drugs. It took strength for them to seek out more effective solutions, leave behind unhealthy ways of coping, and live healthier, more fulfilling lives.
What is an alcohol or drug problem?
Do you have a problem with drinking or drug use? How can you tell?
Many people drink alcohol responsibly or take drugs for medical purposes. To answer the question above, it is important to stop and think about how drinking or taking drugs may be impacting your life.
Consider the following:
- Does drinking alcohol or taking drugs sometimes interfere with your life at home or at work?
- Are you taking more medication than you were prescribed or taking it in a different way than your doctor indicated?
- Do you sometimes have many drinks in a row, or find it is hard to stop drinking or using drugs and wind up taking more than you intended?
- Do you feel like you need drugs or alcohol to “have a good time” during certain activities or social gatherings?
- Have your friends or family said they’re worried about your drinking or drug use?
- Are your relationships suffering because of your drinking or drug use?
- Have you been arrested for driving under the influence or for disorderly conduct?
- Do you feel guilty or remorseful after drinking or using drugs?
- Have you ever “blacked out” and been unable to remember what happened the night before?
- Have you ever had a drink or used drugs to “get going” in the morning?
- Have you or someone else been injured due to your drinking or drug use?
“My wife was sympathetic that I was drinking to cope with some of my deployment-related issues but she could only deal with it for so long. I think I made the decision to get help for her as much as I did for myself.”
Often, without really thinking about it, you may drink or take drugs as a way to try to cope with bad memories or traumatic experiences from your time in the military, or other difficult feelings. Maybe your home situation is less than ideal or you are having a hard time connecting with other people. Do you sometimes use alcohol or drugs to attempt to:
- Feel “normal” and accepted?
- Handle difficult issues or emotions in your life?
- Fit in and feel like you are not different from others?
- Feel less worried or sad?
- Fall asleep or sleep better?
- Deal with tension?
- Forget your problems?
Although it may seem like drinking or using drugs helps you to cope in the short run, it actually can make your problems worse. Using alcohol or drugs to cope might be hurting your health, interfering with work, and damaging your relationships. Taking action to address your substance use may seem overwhelming at first, but for many people it is a necessary step toward a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life.
What can I do about drinking or drug use?
Quitting or cutting back drinking or taking drugs can be hard. Trying to do this on your own, without any support, can make it even harder. Talking to your family and friends could be a first step. They may be able to provide support and support you in finding the help that’s right for you.
There are many options for Veterans who want to cut down or stop using drugs or drinking alcohol. It doesn’t matter if you want to stop having one drink a day or if you have a life-threatening addiction—there are lots of resources for you. Support and treatment come in many forms. One option is counseling, either alone with a therapist or in a group. Another involves medication to help you reduce your use of alcohol or drugs. You can work with your doctor or counselor and try different types of treatment to find the one that’s best for you.
“It helped a lot to know that there were Veterans out there who were in the same place as me. Just listening to their stories and advice turned out to be more helpful and motivating than I could’ve ever imagined.”
In addition, taking an anonymous and confidential self-assessment may help you find out if you need to see a professional about your drinking or drug use. You will be asked a series of questions about your experience using drugs and alcohol throughout your life and in the past three months. Although this set of questions cannot tell you whether or not you definitely have an alcohol or drug problem, it can indicate whether it’s a good idea to see a professional for further assessment.
Take the next step – Make the connection.
Every day, Veterans find effective solutions to dealing with alcohol and drug problems by connecting with other Veterans, proven resources, and treatment. If drinking or taking drugs is getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:
- Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does
- A mental health professional, such as a therapist
- Local support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous
- Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans
- A spiritual or religious advisor
Explore these resources for Veterans with who want help with alcohol or drug problems.
Learn more about the associations between alcohol or drug problems and other issues such as chronic pain, trouble sleeping, relationship problems, posttraumatic stress, and depression.
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.
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.
VA’s Substance Abuse page
Read more about VA’s programs and services for Veterans dealing with substance misuse.
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.
This link will allow you to search for a Narcotics Anonymous meeting located near you.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
This website will allow you search for VA programs located near you. If you’re enrolled in VA and eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s treatment programs.