Veterans and Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a serious problem in any context; however, for veterans, it’s an especially complicated issue. Around 11% (or just over one in ten) of veterans who seek first-time treatment at VA facilities have a substance use disorder, a number that is slightly higher than the national average. And in many of these cases, veterans’ substance abuse can be linked to their experiences in the military. 

Substance Abuse in Veteran Populations

Research indicates that the most common type of substance abuse among veterans is alcohol abuse. 56.6% of veterans reported using alcohol over the course of a one-month period, and 7.5% reported heavy use of alcohol (as opposed to general population rates of 50.8% and 6.5%, respectively). 

In addition to alcohol, veteran substance abuse also includes cigarettes, illicit drugs, and prescription drugs. In particular, data indicates concerning increases in rates of opioid use for veterans.

Causes and Related Factors of Substance Abuse

Substance use disorders are complex and can be influenced by myriad factors in a person’s life, including genetics, personal history, lifestyle, and circumstances. For veterans, military life comes with its own set of risk factors and potential causes, such as:

  • Trauma or stress as a result of service (especially deployment and/or combat)
  • Difficulties in the process of re-integrating into civilian life
  • Mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and depression
  • Injury or chronic pain as a result of service

Consequences of Substance Abuse among Veterans

Substance use disorders in veteran populations have been linked to homelessness and suicide. For example, nearly 75% of homeless veterans suffer from a substance use disorder. Both homelessness and suicide affect veterans disproportionately compared to the general population. 


Organizations such as the VA are taking steps toward addressing substance use among veterans by working to reduce the amount of opioids prescribed to veterans, researching alternative pain treatments, and funding treatment for substance abuse for enrolled veterans. However, there’s still a long way to go in addressing substance use disorders among veterans. 

National Veterans Homeless Support seeks to eliminate homelessness among veterans in Central Florida and nationwide. NVHS takes a proactive, intervention-based approach to homelessness by meeting homeless veterans where they are and helping them from there. Through programs like Search and Rescue Outreach, NVHS helps homeless veterans get the supplies they need to survive, connects them with support and resources, and helps them transition off the streets and into temporary or permanent housing. If you’re able, consider supporting our mission by donating or signing on as a volunteer.