Alcohol abuse is a common issue in the United States. According to a 2019 study, over a quarter of Americans binge drink at least once per month. While the issue occurs frequently in the general population, it’s even more common among veterans.
Studies have found a correlation between active combat and alcohol abuse. One 2010 study surveyed over 6,000 soldiers after returning from a deployment to Iraq and found 27% had recently abused alcohol.
In some cases, alcohol abuse can lead to an addiction for veterans that stays with them long after they have finished active military service. If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol abuse as a veteran, it’s important to understand what alcohol abuse really is, the damage it can cause, and how to seek treatment.
Alcohol abuse includes both binge drinking and heavy drinking. Binge drinking is any alcohol consumption that raises a person’s blood-alcohol level to .08, which is the legal limit for a DUI in the United States.
A blood alcohol level of .08 is typically reached for men after five drinks within two hours or four drinks within two hours for women. However, some people will reach this blood alcohol level with fewer drinks, depending on their size and weight and the amount of food consumed with the alcohol.
A heavy drinker is defined as someone who participates in binge drinking five or more times in a month. Heavy drinking significantly increases a person’s risk of developing an addiction or alcohol abuse disorder. When an addiction forms, it becomes difficult to decrease your level of alcohol consumption because you may experience strong cravings and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you go too long without alcohol.
Alcohol affects the reward system in your brain, especially the chemicals dopamine and serotonin. When an individual drinks, these chemicals enter the brain, causing positive feelings of happiness, calm, or euphoria.
Many veterans suffer from mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Military service often puts individuals in high-stress and life-threatening situations. Around 87% of veterans are exposed to traumatic events that could lead to PTSD, and roughly one-third of veterans exhibit signs of depression.
Each of these mental illnesses makes it difficult to feel happy. Without access to sufficient mental health support, many veterans turn to alcohol instead. As these individuals drink more frequently, the body becomes less able to produce dopamine and serotonin without the help of alcohol. This worsens mental illness and leads to increasing amounts of alcohol consumption.
While alcohol can offer short-term relief from stress and unhappiness, it causes major health problems in the long term. One of the most common health problems caused by alcohol use is difficulty sleeping. Although many people feel sleepy after drinking, alcohol prevents high-quality sleep, leading to a weakened immune system, worsened mood, and impaired memory.
Long-term heavy drinking also significantly increases your risk of head, neck, breast, liver, stomach, and pancreatic cancer. It also causes high blood pressure, heart disease, and digestive issues. Alcohol also depletes your body of nutrients, so, many heavy drinkers are deficient in important vitamins and nutrients.
In addition to the long-term health risks, as alcohol consumption increases, many people become unaware of how much they are drinking in a short time period. This raises the risk of drinking so much in a short amount of time that a person develops alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning is when your body can’t remove the toxins from your blood quickly enough, which can lead to a coma or even death.
Alcohol abuse is also a major cause of injury and death from accidents, especially car accidents. While heavy drinking, judgment is impaired. Many people choose to drive or participate in dangerous activities because they don’t realize how much their judgment and motor skills are inhibited.
If alcohol abuse continues in the long term it damages not only your health, but also relationships, careers, and many other areas of life. It’s important to treat an alcohol abuse disorder as soon as possible. There are many strategies to help you begin your path to recovery from an alcohol addiction and prevent further alcohol abuse. Here are a few treatment options:
Work With A Mental Healthcare Professional
Living with an untreated mental illness is one of the most common causes of alcohol abuse. To stop the cycle of abuse, it’s important to find help and treat your mental health. A therapist or counselor can help veterans process trauma, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and improve mindfulness. A licensed psychiatrist can help find the right medical interventions to treat severe mental illnesses. As mental health improves, alcohol won’t feel as necessary for happiness.
Attend a Support Group
There are many opportunities for veterans struggling with alcohol abuse to find group support. Many veterans feel it’s challenging to connect with others who have not experienced military service because civilian life is so different than the life they experienced during active duty. Veteran support groups allow veterans to talk to others who have been through similar experiences and understand the feelings that come from returning home after active duty.
There are also support groups for individuals experiencing PTSD, grief, or depression. Although these groups may not always be specific to veterans, they provide an opportunity for individuals to discuss their experiences living with similar mental illnesses.
Enroll in an Addiction Treatment Program
Addiction treatment programs are often the best treatment for individuals struggling with severe addictions or individuals who have experienced relapses in the past. A treatment program often includes mental health support, medical care, connection with peers, and guidance in building new routines to support a healthy lifestyle without alcohol.
Jackson House Addiction Treatment and Rehabilitation Center has treatment options specifically designed for veterans. This treatment program is focused on community support and evidence-based therapies to help veterans reach a full recovery. If you believe your or a loved could benefit from addiction treatment, reach out to the Jackson House team to discuss your needs.