Substance Involvement and the Military ExperienceImage - Military

Although healthy use of substances is part of many peoples’ way of being human, excessive or dysfunctional use, abuse, or dependence can lead to various problems.  These tendencies are particularly common in individuals who experience stress related to military deployment, service, return home, and in support of those who serve or who have served.   This fact sheet is intended to help military members, veterans, and family members make decisions about responsible substance use and to evaluate when their substance use is a problem.

Most active military personnel, veterans, and family members who drink alcohol are social or recreational drinkers.  Social drinkers...

...drink simply to enhance the pleasure of normally pleasurable experiences, and that's what happens.

...don't experience problems of any kind associated with drinking.

...never feel out of control or that they've had too much to drink.

...don't think about how much or how often they drink; it's just not an issue.

...never get complaints about how much or how often they drink because there's nothing to complain about.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Some people who drink alcohol, or who use other substances, become substance abusers. People with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are more likely than others with similar backgrounds to have alcohol use disorders both before and after being diagnosed with PTSD, and people with alcohol use disorders often also have PTSD.

Alcohol and drug abusers, or substance abusers...

... use alcohol or other drugs to help them change the way they feel about themselves and/or some aspect(s) of their lives.

... experience some problems associated with their alcohol or other drug use but use those experiences to set appropriate limits on how much and how often they drink or use.

... seldom, if ever, repeat the alcohol- and drug-related behaviors that have caused them problems in the past.

... know what their limits are and drink or abuse within those limits - unless they have a good reason not to.

... get complaints about their drinking or using and accept those complaints as expressions of concern for their well-being.

Substance use can become dysfunctional when it becomes the preferred or sole way to manage life struggles such as:

  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Grief, loneliness, or boredom
  • Escape from the present situation
  • Difficulties in relationships with others
  • Unpleasant memories or traumatic events

Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to see if you are developing a problem:

  • Have friends or family members commented on how much or how often you drink?
  • Have you have found yourself feeling guilty about your drinking or drug use?
  • Have you found yourself drinking (using) more over time?
  • Have you tried to cut down your alcohol (drug) use?
  • Does your drinking (using drugs) ever affect your ability to fulfill personal obligations such as parenting or work?
  • Do you drink (use) in situations that are physically dangerous such as driving or operating machinery while under the influence?
  • Have you found that you need more alcohol (drug) to get the same effect?

If you find that you are answering “yes” to one or more of these questions, perhaps it is time to reevaluate your use, cut back, and seek help from friends, family, or a professional.

Alcoholism and Drug Addiction

Some people who drink alcohol or who use other drugs become alcoholics and/or substance addicts. Alcoholics and drug addicts...

...experience negative consequences associated with drinking or using but continue to drink or use despite those consequences.

...set limits on how much or how often they will drink or use but unexpectedly exceed those limits.

...promise themselves and/or other people that they will drink or use in moderation but break those promises.

...feel guilty or remorseful about their drinking or using but still fail to permanently alter the way they drink or use.

...get complaints about their drinking or using and resent, discount, and/or disregard those comments and complaints.

Alcohol and Drug Use Management

Social drinkers and users, substance abusers, and alcoholics and addicts can best manage their relationships with alcohol and drugs in different ways.

  Social drinkers are fine. They need do nothing. Drinking is not in and of itself the issue. If it's really not a problem, then it's not a problem.

  Alcohol abusers may not need to abstain completely from the use of alcohol, but they need to deal with the problems and issues that make them want to change the way they feel, even it means getting professional help.

  Alcoholics and addicts need to abstain completely from all addictive and potentially addictive mood- and mind-altering substances, and they will almost surely need professional help and/or support to accomplish that goal.  Getting help is the most useful tool in decreasing or stopping problem drinking or drug use, even if you have doubts about being able to quit or if you are feeling guilt about the problem. Call your health provider, contact a physician or therapist, call your local VA hospital, or contact your local Alcoholic’s Anonymous for guidance in your recovery. These contacts can help you on the road to the life you want.

Information in this fact sheet is based on information from this site and a fact sheet from the National Center for PTSD called Stress, Trauma, and Alcohol and Drug Use.

Web Links

veterans crissi line The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is available.

Arlington Cemetary - Veteran Addiction and Mental Health Resource

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Our Mission: IAVA’s mission is to improve the lives of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families.

This is the information for Georgia’s largest provider of VA services and the web site address

  • Atlanta VA Medical Center
  • 1670 Clairmont Road Decatur, GA 30033
  • Phone: (404) 321-6111 hrs. 8:00a.m-4:30p.m.
  • Website 2
  • 4-hour VA suicide hot line : 1-800-273-TALK

This is a resource to help veterans and families with information about the signs and symptoms of suicide ideation.

This is a link provided by the US army for soldiers that help with some information on stress, suicide facts, and some veteran benefits that are available.

Welcome Back Veterans is resource to help welcome back veteran returning from deployment.

Homeless Veterans Reintegration Project this is a resource to help find homes for our disabled veterans in need of shelter.