Statistics show that veterans have a higher rate of developing a substance use disorder than the general population, as men and women in the military face unique and difficult challenges that most civilians do not encounter. 

These statistics have numerous ramifications, but most importantly they show the need for veteran treatment programs and recovery resources. With such a prevalent problem, it’s crucial to provide accessible treatment programs. 

Why is addiction higher among veterans?

There are a number of factors that impact the development of a substance use disorder in an individual. These often include one’s mental health status, family history and outside stressors, such as finances, employment and social situations.

Some veterans have the additional experiences of time spent in the military, which may include trauma from being in combat, moral injury or having been hospitalized or injured while in active duty or deployment. A number of stressful situations can, and do, arise while enlisted, and substances may be used as a means of coping with these overwhelming, frightening situations. 

Additionally, substance use disorders often co-occur with mental health disorders, and certain ones are highly common among veterans. According to an article published in the American Journal of Public Health, “Of 289,328 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, 106,726 (36.9 percent) received mental health diagnoses; 62,929 (21.8 percent) were diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 50,432 (17.4 percent) with depression.”

Veterans also experience more chronic pain than the general population as a result of injuries sustained in the military. In order to help treat this pain, about 11 percent of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars received opioid pain medication. Opioids in and of themselves are highly addictive, and anyone who uses them is at risk of developing a substance use disorder. 

Lastly, veterans face the unique challenge of readjusting to civilian life in a way the general population never has to do. Approximately 56 percent of service men and women who experienced a traumatic event have a difficult time transitioning into civilian life. Without the right mental health care to aid in this transition, the change can feel lonely, isolating and uncomfortable.

Commonly abused substances 

While vets can, and do, struggle with substance use disorders of different kinds, some of the most common substances abused include alcohol, prescription opioids and cannabis.


Among the veteran population, alcohol use disorder (AUD) is most prevalent. One research project suggests, “More than 40 percent of US military veterans have a lifetime history of alcohol use disorder. Veterans with a lifetime history of alcohol use disorder have a substantial comorbid psychiatric burden, including elevated rates of suicidal ideation and attempts.”

Certain risk factors for developing an AUD include:

  • Deployment
  • Trauma
  • A pre-existing mental health disorder
  • Lower educational levels

While not every risk factor guarantees the development of alcohol addiction, they are important to note for the sake of prevention.

Prescription medications

Because PTSD is so prevalent among the veteran community, many veterans are prescribed anti-anxiety medications to help ease the symptoms. Many of these medications can be highly addictive, causing the development of a substance use disorder. 

Additionally, because chronic pain is something many vets are treated for with the use of opioid pain medications, addiction can occur from continued use of these products. 

Commonly abused prescription medications include: 

  • OxyContin
  • Valium
  • Xanax
  • Lunesta
  • Ativan
  • Lortab
  • Ambien

Without proper medication management, one’s body may become tolerant of the drug, requiring a higher dose to continue managing pain or PTSD symptoms. This can, in turn, lead to addiction as the body becomes more tolerant and dependent on the substance to function. 


Over the past 10 years, cannabis misuse has increased in both the general population and in the veteran population. For veterans between the ages of 18 and 44, over 20 percent reported using cannabis.

Additionally, cannabis use disorder rates are “considerably higher among the subset of Veterans with co-occurring PTSD (12.1 percent), as well as among Veterans with other psychiatric and substance use problems (8.9-13.0 percent).”

Treatment for veterans battling addiction

A number of recovery resources are available for veterans struggling with addiction, both through the VA and through treatment facilities nationwide.

Certain rehab facilities are part of the Veterans Affairs Community Care Network (VA-CCN) which comprises treatment centers that are approved to accept veteran benefits for behavioral health treatment, giving vets more timely and convenient access to care, as well as assistance in paying for treatment. 

At October Road, we make it a priority to get veterans the substance use treatment they need and deserve. Our admissions specialists have expertise in navigating the VA-CCN system and extensive experience in working with veterans and the VA.

To get in touch with October Road, call our offices at (888) 201-5068 or reach out to an admissions counselor online today. 

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