Talk to veterans in your community about substance use

Sun, 05/26/2024 - 8:45am

Drug and alcohol addiction and mental health issues are common problems that many veterans struggle with. Without adequate treatment or support, these issues spiral quickly out of control. Unfortunately, too many slip through the cracks and never get help. 

While there are many reasons for this, it is often a lack of early intervention, stigma with addiction, and, in some cases, inadequate drug education.

Early intervention remains the best initial approach, involving conversations and even drug education. While it is challenging to know how many veterans have substance use disorders and mental health problems, it’s safe to say there are many struggling in silence. 

However, we can reach those close to us and those in the community, have conversations, provide drug education, and break down the stigma.

According to census data, in 2022, 9.00% of the adult population in Maine were considered veterans. Many of these veterans are affected by factors related to substance use, such as pain, suicide risk, homelessness, and trauma. 

Per the National Survey for Drug Use and Health, 3.6 million veterans had a past year substance use disorder in the United States.

Alcohol use disorders, for example, are common, affecting many within the state. According to drug abuse statistics, 19.5% of Maine adults over 18 binge drink at least once per month. There is an average of 714 annual deaths in the state because of excessive alcohol use. 

Nationally, veterans ages 18 to 49 were the most likely to struggle with addiction. Yet, few veterans seek treatment. An estimated 2.7 million veterans, or 95.4% of the 3.6 million, did not perceive a need for substance use treatment, and only 0.3% sought drug rehab per national data. 

You can begin helping a veteran by discussing substance use and prevention with them. Do not avoid conversations about substance abuse; they could be the turning point that convinces them to get help. 

For instance, when you begin the conversation, focus on sharing your feelings.   

  • Tell them you have noticed they have been drinking more than usual and wondering if everything is okay.  
  • You could also tell them you have noticed they have been acting differently and have not seemed like themselves lately.  
  • Make a point of checking in with them, calling them, inviting them out, visiting them, and demonstrating that you are there to support them.  


Once you’ve begun the conversation, ask questions such as when they first started feeling this, did something happen that made them feel like this, whether they have been using drugs or alcohol to cope with negative feelings, and whether they have thought about getting help or searching for support.

During these conversations, it is critical to listen without judgment, be supportive, and not come across as disappointed. If you feel concerned, contact the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988 and then press 1. Other professional resources include SAMHSA and the Veterans Affairs Resource Locator. 

This practical approach can help support our veterans who are struggling. Early intervention remains a critical part of helping anyone battling addiction and mental health problems.  

Michael Leach has spent most of his career as a healthcare professional specializing in substance use & addiction recovery. He is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) and the Public Relations Officer at DRS