Caring for Veterans with Substance Use Disorders



Substance use disorders, sometimes referred to as “addiction”, are common. Most people know someone who has been affected by it. But even though it is common, it is often misunderstood. In honor of International Day of Recovery on September 30, VA wants veterans to know that there are a number of therapies and medications proven to help treat substance use disorders.

What is most important to know is that substance use disorders are a treatable condition. As with other medical conditions, VA offers a variety of therapies and medications proven to help support veterans who have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, you would go to your provider for treatment. The treatment of substance use disorders is no different.

What is a substance use disorder?

Substance use disorders make it difficult for people to manage their use of alcohol, drugs and other substances, including nicotine, prescribed opioids, and marijuana. Some Veterans use alcohol or drugs as an unhealthy way to cope with unpleasant emotions such as stress, anxiety or depression. Not everyone who drinks or uses drugs ends up with a substance use disorder, but for some it can be a slippery slope, especially for those who face other challenges including issues. mental health or stressors in life. Substance use disorders can lead to changes in the structure and function of the brain, affecting judgment, decision-making, learning, memory and behavioral control. These changes can also lead to intense cravings and personality changes.

If you are worried, depressed, or anxious about your alcohol or drug use (or that of a veteran you care about), or if you notice any of these common signs of a potential related disorder use of substances, talk to a VA provider:

  • Increased need to use alcohol or drugs.
  • Inability to stop using alcohol or drugs, despite negative consequences.
  • Changes in relationships due to alcohol or drug use.
  • Symptoms of illness or withdrawal when alcohol or drug use stops.
  • Need to consume more alcohol or drugs over time.

If you or a loved one veteran is struggling with a drug or alcohol problem, VA has many proven treatments that can help.

What support is available from VA?

Everyone’s journey to recovery is unique. VA offers a variety of treatment options that can be tailored to suit individual needs, preferences and situations. These include evidence-based treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, motivation enhancement therapy, and contingency management. These treatments can help Veterans develop skills and strategies to reduce their substance use and respond to cravings, cravings and problems associated with substance use.

Substance abuse disorder is a chronic condition that can often be treated with medication to help control alcohol and drug use, reduce food cravings, prevent relapses, and ultimately reduce the risk of death from an addiction disorder. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, and opioid overdose deaths are preventable with naloxone. VA has made naloxone available free of charge to VA patients who need it.

If alcohol or drug use is negatively affecting your life, take the next step by exploring what VA has to offer. If alcohol or drugs are affecting the life of a veteran you care about, calling Coaching Into Care (888-823-7458) can allow you to have effective conversations with them about seeking treatment.


If you see someone showing symptoms of an overdose or is in immediate danger, call 911.



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