While most of America’s warriors return home without traumatic brain injuries or damaged arms or legs, beer and liquor are the crutches for an alarming and growing number of those who serve our country. Servicemen and servicewomen who fought abroad – from Korea to Vietnam to Bosnia to Afghanistan – return home to fight alcohol use disorders at a rate nearly two times higher than the general public.
Many of those who have seen active duty turn to alcohol to try to deaden the images of what they’ve endured. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) reports that of nearly 30 million veterans in the United States, 56 percent of male veterans and 41 percent of females have problems with alcohol and 23 percent of males and 14 percent of females binge drink.
Additionally, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, one in eight troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan from 2006 to 2008 were referred for counseling for alcohol problems after their post-deployment health assessments. The number of soldiers enrolled in treatment after being diagnosed with alcohol use disorders has increased 56 percent since 2003.
Alcohol use disorders are divided between alcohol abuse and the disease of alcoholism. (See the related article, Know the difference between alcoholism and alcohol abuse, for the distinction.)
To gain a fuller understanding of alcohol use disorders among younger veterans and active-duty personnel, the Millennium Cohort Study is following a representative sample of U.S. military from 2001 to 2022. It is the largest prospective study in military history. Findings from this study suggest that Reserve and National Guard personnel and younger service members who deploy with reported combat exposures are at an increased risk for the onset of heavy weekly drinking, binge drinking and other alcohol-related problems.
All service branches, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are trying to address the alcohol crisis. In one project, researchers are using smart phones and wearable wireless sensors to record real-time responses to stress among veterans suffering from addictions and trauma. The VA offers a brief, anonymous and confidential tool on their website to help veterans who may have concerns about their drinking. The Drinker’s Check-Up is another easy-to-use website developed for veterans under a grant from the NIH.
The referral process and accessibility of treatment options for veterans with alcohol use disorders are only slightly better than the resources available to the general public today, however, the military was playing catch-up with their budgeting for such resources for the past decade. They are taking education, treatment and prevention seriously, today, as we welcome home more of our nation’s warriors from the Afghanistan war, but the resources are available to all veterans.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with reasons for entering a conflict on foreign soil, those who serve and their families deserve our support and salute. They are owed our help and attention, not the stigma Americans attach to alcohol use disorders.