Alcoholism Among Veterans
Though alcohol consumption is often recreational, heavy drinking can become habit-forming for some people. Certain groups of people, like veterans of the U.S. military, have an increased risk of misusing or abusing alcohol. For vets, mental trauma, as well as increasing drinking over time, can lead to an alcohol addiction. Consequently, excessive drinking occurs more frequently among veterans than in the civilian population and leads to double the rate of addiction treatment admissions for substance.
Veterans of war with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to binge drink when consuming alcohol. Experiencing combat has also been linked to heavy episodic drinking.
Veterans who were diagnosed with mesothelioma may be eligible for VA compensation. To find out if you qualify, speak with a patient advocate today.
Some people drink to cope with stress and painful memories or to handle social situations. Yet, heavy drinking can have long-term impacts on your health. Alcohol can cause chronic and/or potentially fatal health problems like:
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Dementia and memory problems
- Digestive issues
- Esophagus and throat cancer
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Learning problems
- Liver disease and cancer
What Is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is another word for a substance use disorder (SUD) that involves alcohol abuse. Binge drinking and heavy drinking are habits of alcohol abuse. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks in a single sitting for women and five or more drinks for men. Heavy drinking is characterized by drinking eight or more servings of alcohol a week for women and 15 or more drinks per week for men.
Inside the body, alcohol can interrupt the function of the immune system and the absorption of nutrients. Moreover, it can inflame tissue cells in the liver (known as hepatitis) and scarring (known as cirrhosis).
Risk Factors for Alcoholism Among Veterans
In the U.S., alcohol is the fourth leading cause of preventable death. Experiencing chronic pain, thoughts of suicide, and homeless put vets at risk of a SUD. Additionally, addiction to alcohol also increases veterans’ risk of injury and illness, domestic violence, and legal consequences.
Among men and women, men are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder. However, increasing rates of women (veterans and civilians) have been referred to addiction treatment for alcohol use in recent years.
While deployed, many veterans feel intense physical and mental strain and turn to drinking to cope. Adding to that, military culture and camaraderie activities may contribute to over-drinking. Over time, heavy drinking habits can become normal as the person needs to drink more alcohol to get the same effects.
Treatment for an Alcohol Addiction
The VA offers a range of addiction treatments targeting every stage of alcohol dependency. Specifically, treatment programs that aim to reduce their drinking as well as people in need of treatment for a life-threatening addiction. Notably, the continuum of VA mental health services for eligible veterans includes:
- Addiction medication (such as methadone)
- Continuing care and relapse prevention
- Family and marriage counseling
- Medically managed detox
- Nicotine replacement
- Outpatient SUD treatment
- Residential SUD therapy
- Short-term outpatient counseling
- Support groups
- Treatment for PTSD and depression
To take advantage of these services, talk with your VA primary care provider. Eligible vets and military personnel can apply for benefits using the VA’s online eBenefits system.
Private health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid may also be used to pay for certain types of addiction therapies. Refer to your health plan for coverage details.
Alcoholism and Mesothelioma
Ultimately, heavy drinking can have a significant impact on veterans who develop cancers like mesothelioma. Excessive drinking may damage the respiratory system and the liver. Additionally, it has been linked to fluid buildup in the lungs and the weakening of the immune system.
Veterans with mesothelioma can take action without affecting their benefits.
During cancer treatments, drinking alcohol can irritate cells lining the mouth and throat. Further DNA damage could occur as these cells try to repair themselves. Alcohol could metabolize with medications inside the body and cause dangerous side effects. Chemotherapy, for example, is unable to breakdown properly in a damaged liver. Furthermore, alcohol-related organ damage increases patients’ risk of post-surgery complications. Also, it can interfere with a patient’s ability to heal from treatment.
Depending on your treatment plan, your doctor may ask you to avoid drinking. The interactions alcohol and cigarette smoke have on the body may likewise prohibit smoking.
If you don’t qualify for benefits from the VA, you may still have access to support. Anyone seeking treatment for a SUD can call 1-800-662-HELP (4357), a line operated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. People who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma may qualify for legal compensation. Speak to a lawyer to learn more about your options.