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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 decide if your drinking or drug use is unhealthy or increases risk, it is important to stop and think about how these activities may be affecting your life.

Consider the following signs:

  • Does drinking alcohol or taking drugs sometimes interfere with your life at home, at work, or at school?
  • Do you sometimes have many drinks in a row, or find it hard to stop drinking or using drugs and wind up taking more than you intended?
  • 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 gotten into situations while drinking or using drugs where you could have gotten hurt (e.g., driving, swimming, operating machinery, etc.)?
  • Have you wanted to cut down or tried to cut down on your drinking or drug use?
  • Have you found that you must drink or use drugs more than usual to achieve the same effect they once had? Or that the same number of drinks has less effect than it used to?
  • Have you spent a lot of time drinking or using drugs and being sick afterwards?
  • Have you given up or cut back on things that are important and interesting to you in order to drink or use drugs?
  • Is drinking or using drugs affecting your health or making you feel depressed or anxious?
  • Have you ever "blacked out" and not been able to remember what happened while under the influence of alcohol or drugs?
  • When the effects of drugs or alcohol were wearing off, have you felt sick, had trouble sleeping, or sensed things that were not real?
“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.”

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 with other difficult feelings.  Maybe your home situation is less than ideal or you're having a hard time connecting with other people. Do you sometimes use alcohol or drugs to:

  • Feel “normal” and accepted?
  • Handle difficult issues or emotions in your life?
  • Get going in the morning?
  • 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, these activities 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 and its symptoms may seem unnecessary or possibly overwhelming at first. But for many people, it is a critical step toward happier and healthier relationships and a 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 help you find the assistance 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 resources for you. Support and treatment come in many forms. One option is counseling, either one-on-one with a therapist or in a group. Another involves medication to help you reduce your use of alcohol or drugs. A third option is mutual-help groups with others who are working on similar problems. 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 is not designed to 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 who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard find effective solutions to dealing with alcohol and drug problems by connecting with other Veterans, proven resources, and treatment. If drugs and alcohol abuse are getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. 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 manage alcohol or drug problems even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist
  • Local support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
  • A spiritual or religious adviser

Explore these resources for Veterans who want to address alcohol or drug problems.

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

VA’s Substance Use Page
Read more about VA’s programs and services for Veterans dealing with substance misuse.
www.mentalhealth.va.gov/res-vatreatmentprograms.asp

NIAAA Rethinking Drinking
Learn more about alcohol and the recommended limits for alcohol use.
www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/Default.aspx

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.
pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Treatment/treatment.htm

AfterDeployment
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.
www.afterdeployment.dcoe.mil/topics-alcohol-drugs

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.
www.aa.org/pages/en_US/find-aa-resources

Narcotics Anonymous
This link will allow you to search for an NA meeting located near you.
www.na.org/meetingsearch/

SmokefreeVET/Smoking Cessation
Those seeking support for alcohol and drug abuse may also want to stop smoking. SmokefreeVET is a mobile text messaging service for Veterans who receive their health care through VA. Veterans can sign up for automated text messages from SmokefreeVET by visiting www.smokefree.gov/vet. Additionally, SmokefreeVET has a Facebook page where Veterans who are quitting smoking can post messages of support and encouragement to each other. For more information on VA's smoking and tobacco cessation programs, visit www.publichealth.va.gov/smoking. To speak with a smoking cessation counselor, call 1-855-QUIT-VET.

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.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter_flsh.asp

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Alcohol or drug problems may be related to other health conditions that need attention. 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.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp?isflash=1