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Veterans More Likely to Access Alcohol Treatment Programs Than Non-Veterans

Research presented at the 2012 APHA meeting indicates that help is available to both groups, but civilians less likely to seek it out.

- by Jenara Nerenberg

The Gist

A veteran getting counseling from a therapist.Veterans who are heavy alcohol users are more likely to access a wide range of alcohol treatment programs as compared to their civilian counterparts, according to research presented today at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting. 

While veterans are using formal and informal programs such as self-help groups, Alcoholics Anonymous, and employee assistance programs, "less than 10 percent of the younger, persistently-heavy [civilian] drinkers were accessing the services that the veterans used," lead researcher Katherine Karriker-Jaffe, PhD told Healthline. 

The findings suggest that the social support found among formal, organized groups such as veterans groups, may encourage heavy alcohol drinkers to seek out help as compared to those who are more isolated.

Expert Take

"There seems to be an unmet service need for civilian men with alcohol problems," said Karriker-Jaffe. "We found that the veterans who were persistently heavy drinkers were more likely to access treatment services than their civilian counterparts."

Karriker-Jaffe continued to state that there are a variety of venues to reach veterans and that non-veterans are not being reached in the same way.

"We did some more detailed follow-up with some of the respondents who had gotten help for an alcohol problem, and it is quite striking that the veterans were consistently accessing a wider variety of treatment options than civilians."


The formalized community component that exists within the structure of veterans' groups may play a role in encouraging veterans to seek care along with fellow veterans. Researchers in the public health social sciences have repeatedly proven that when people are grouped together in settings where they share common ties and are available to support one another, those people have what is called "social capital" and their health outcomes are better than those people who are alone, isolated, and without social support. 

Thus, it seems that veterans who strive to overcome their alcohol challenges may be benefitting from the support of fellow veterans, as well as the many programs that exist to serve them. And what sets their behavior apart from their civilian counterparts--at least in this study--is that the veterans are seeking out treatment and civilians are not, even when those same or similar programs are available to the civilians.

As such, veterans and civilians both can benefit from taking the first step to joining groups of supportive, helpful, and non-judgmental individuals as part of a commitment to overcoming unhealthy drinking habits.

Source and Method

The 2010 National Alcohol Survey results were analyzed and indicated that 29 percent of veteran heavy alcohol drinkers under the age of 50 sought treatment for alcohol dependence, whereas only 17 percent of their civilian counterparts did the same. 

Civilians were also more than twice as likely to report having depression. For the purpose of this study, "heavy drinking" was defined as having five or more drinks at a time at least once per week.

Other Research

A seminal text in the public health social sciences field is Social Capital and Health: A Decade of Progress and Beyond, which explores the role of social support in producing better health outcomes in people. 

2001 study in the Journal of Medical Economics also explores the role of social support in overcoming drug and alcohol dependencies.

A 2005 study from Social Science and Medicine reports on the link between social capital and mental health, specifically. 

And a 2006 study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress looks specifically at the role of social support in Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress, drug, and alcohol disorders.

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Tags: Awareness , Latest Studies & Research , Treatments

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.