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Veteran Substance Abuse Statistics


The stress of deployments, the loneliness of being away from loved ones, and the unique culture of the military all offer risks related to substance abuse among active-duty personnel and veterans. Deployment is linked to smoking, unhealthy drinking, drug use, and risky behaviors. Zero-tolerance policies, lack of confidentiality, and mandatory random drug testing that might deter drug use can also add to stigma. While important for reducing substance abuse among active-duty, it can also contribute to stigma. As a family of addiction treatment facilities that offer a Military and Veterans in Recovery program, we’re sharing veteran substance abuse statistics in hopes of reducing stigma and spreading awareness.   

Understanding Substance Abuse in Veterans & Active-Duty 

Half of the military personnel have reported that they believe seeking mental health care would negatively affect their military career.1 While illicit drug use, cigarette smoking, and prescription drug abuse have decreased in recent years among active-duty personnel, rates of binge drinking remain high compared to the general population.2   

Additionally, service members can face dishonorable discharge and even criminal prosecution if they test positive for drug use, which can also discourage illicit drug use. Once active-duty service members leave the military, some of these protective influences are gone, and substance abuse and other mental health disorders may worsen.   

It’s also important to consider that drinking is a common pastime among military troops during deployment. As boredom between assignments, along with loneliness and homesickness, may kick in, servicemembers often drink to pass the time, drown their sorrows, or celebrate successful assignments. Because alcohol is readily accessible nearly everywhere around the world and is legal to consume in most places, it’s understandable why alcoholism is a concern among active duty as well as veterans.  

Over 1 in 10 veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, which is a slightly higher amount than in the general population.3 When looking at the pattern for male veterans ages 18 to 25, the rates were higher in veterans than males in the general population.3 The military veteran population is also greatly impacted by issues related to substance abuse, such as pain, suicide risk, trauma, and homelessness. 

Veterans’ Addiction Statistics According to Substance  

Because habits created in active duty usually follow veterans into their life after the military, our military rehab center wanted to share some disturbing veteran drug abuse statistics that portray the need for specialized care and awareness.  

Illicit Drugs  

Reported rates of illicit drug use increase when active-duty personnel retire from the military. According to research:  

  • 3.5% of veterans reported marijuana use.3  
  • 1.7% of veterans reported illicit drug use other than marijuana in one month.3 
  • From 2002 to 2009, cannabis use disorders increased by over 50% among veterans.3 
  • More than 16% of total veteran admissions into addiction treatment facilities were for heroin (10.7%) and cocaine (over 6%.)4 
  • Nearly 11% of veterans were admitted to rehab centers for heroin abuse.5 
  • Nearly 300,00 (27%) of veterans abuse illegal drugs.6 
  • About 45,000 veterans were diagnosed with heroin use disorder in 2018.6  

Opioids and Other Prescription Drugs  

Military physicians wrote nearly 3.8 million prescriptions for pain medication in 2009, which was more than quadruple the number of prescriptions written in 2001.7 Opioid use disorders in the military often begin with opioid pain prescriptions following an injury during deployment. However, because of their addiction potential, opioids – especially when coupled with mental health disorders like PTSD – can lead to opioid use disorders. Veteran opioid statistics include:  

  • About 41,000 veterans were diagnosed with an addiction to painkillers in 2018.6 
  • Veterans are most likely to misuse hydrocodone (Norco, Vicodin.)6 
  • Two-thirds of veterans reported experiencing pain problems.8 
  • More than 9% of veterans reported severe pain, compared to only 6.4% of non-veterans.8 
  • The percentage of veterans taking prescription opioids increased from 17% to 24%  from 2001 to 2009.3 
  • Overall opioid overdose rates among veterans increased from 14% in 2010 to 21% in 2016.9 

Our nationwide veterans addiction treatment centers offer opioid addiction treatment as well as prescription drug treatment to help active-duty and retired military personnel regain their physical and mental health as well as their sobriety. Reach out to us if you’re looking into treatment for yourself or a loved one. 


Alcohol use disorders are the most common type of addiction among military personnel.4 Increased combat exposure involving violence and trauma experienced by those who serve results in an increased risk of problematic drinking. Knowing this about alcohol use, the following veteran alcoholism statistics aren’t surprising:  

  • According to a 2017 study, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health Data, veterans were more likely to use alcohol in one month than their non-veteran counterparts (56.6% vs. 50.8% respectively.)3 
  • 65% of veterans who enter a rehab program report alcohol as the most frequently misused substance, which is nearly double that of the general population.4 
  • Male veterans are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) than female veterans.3 
  • In 2018, there were 25,000 veterans aged 18 to 25 with an alcohol addiction in the past year.10 
  • In 2018, there were 874,000 veterans aged 26 or older who had an alcohol addiction in the past year.10 

Our veterans and active-duty military rehab program also offers alcoholism treatment to help men and women in and out of the military recover from withdrawals, regain their health, and learn how to live sober lives.  

Veteran Addiction Assistance & Treatment at Banyan  

Considering the many psychological, emotional, and physical hardships that military active-duty and retired personnel go through, the veteran substance abuse statistics we found are not surprising. With so many suffering from addiction and mental illness in the military field, they must receive individualized care.  

If you or someone you care about is a servicemember or veteran with one of these disorders or a co-occurring disorder, Banyan Treatment Centers can help. Call us today at 888-280-4763 or give us your contact information to learn more about our veterans and military addiction treatment. 



  1. NIH - Military Combat Deployments and Substance Use: Review and Future Directions 
  2. RAND Corporation - 2015 Health Related Behaviors Survey 
  3. NIH - Substance use disorders in military veterans: prevalence and treatment challenges 
  4. SAMHSA - Veterans' Primary Substance Of Abuse Is Alcohol In Treatment Admissions 
  5. NIH - Substance Use and Military Life DrugFacts 
  6. SAMHSA - Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits 
  7. National Academies - Substance Use Disorders in the U.S. Armed Forces 
  8. NIH - Severe Pain in Veterans: The Effect of Age and Sex, and Comparisons With the General Population 
  9. American Journal of Preventive Medicine - Changing Trends in Opioid Overdose Deaths and Prescription Opioid Receipt Among Veterans 
  10. SAMHSA - 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Veterans 


Related Reading:  

The PTSD History Timeline 

Psychological Effects of Military Training 


Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.