veteran addiction treatment alcoholism veterans

Addiction Symptoms in Veterans: Signs It’s Time to Quit


Back to main Blog
Matt Biekert

Matt was born and raised in North Stonington, Connecticut. He has always been a close-knit family guy. When he is not working you can find him outside, playing sports, being a prankster and enjoying a great laugh. His favorite hobbies are playing golf, photography and travel. Matt had his own struggles with addiction and is very proud to share his story of recovery and his passion for the mission of Acqua. He found his way to Acqua in search of treatment – he was actually our second patient!! He was very excited to join our team on his 1 year sobriety anniversary. He likes to say that he helped open the center (as a patient) and we have never been able to get rid of him! [Editor’s note: we hope we keep him forever.] He began at Acqua by helping create a small, Alumni program, and then transitioned to Outreach and marketing, which is a natural for him because he loves to connect with people from all walks of life who are seeking help. In February 2018, Matt was promoted to Admissions Director; because he is so passionate about his work he never feels like it is a job to help guide people on the path to recovery.

Diagnosing addiction in veterans is not as simple as taking a blood test or having your nose swabbed. Substance use disorder is a layered, complex disease of the brain that can be incredibly difficult to recognize — and to treat successfully. True recovery, however, begins with identifying the problem in the first place. How can you recognize addiction symptoms in veterans? These are signs it’s time to quit.

What is Addiction in Veterans? 

First, addiction is a chronic disease. That means that it comes on slowly over the course of many months, and can last for months or years without treatment. Other chronic diseases include diabetes and hypertension, for example. 

Like those chronic diseases, addiction (known medically as substance use disorder) has a constellation of causes rather than one root trigger. Instead of being caused by a viral particle like the common cold or COVID-19, addiction is caused by a mix of genetics, trauma, lifestyle factors, and more. That is partly what makes it so difficult to diagnose.

Doctors diagnosing substance use disorder in veterans must look at a number of factors in order to identify what’s really at play. The amount and frequency of consumption is relevant, of course, but what’s even more telling is the type of behavior surrounding someone’s substance use. There are many questions that doctors would ask in a screening, but it boils down to this: If drinking or drug use causes problems in someone’s life and they still can’t or won’t stop drinking or using, they might have a problem. 

The military frequently screens active duty service members and vets for substance use disorder and the mental health issues that often lay beneath it. Beyond that umbrella definition, these are common symptoms of addiction.

Addiction Symptoms: Physical

Physical signs of addiction are often the easiest to recognize, because they are the most difficult to hide. These symptoms can vary widely depending on the individual’s substance of choice, but major physical changes of any kind — with no other apparent cause — should be concerning. That includes weight gain, weight loss, changes in skin tone, changes in eye appearance, and more. 

Addiction Symptoms: Behavioral 

Behavioral symptoms of addiction are also frequently major red flags for substance use disorder. Like physical symptoms, behavioral symptoms of addiction are closely tied to the substance that is being consumed. Opioids might make someone lethargic, for example, while cocaine does the opposite. Irritability, mood swings, and major mood changes overall are all symptoms of addiction.

Addiction Symptoms: Financial

As addiction takes a toll on the body and mind, it also can affect the bank account. Shelling out more and more for drugs and alcohol can cause an individual to neglect other financial responsibilities. If bills are suddenly piling up and creditors are calling, it might mean that a portion of the budget is getting sucked up by substance abuse. In addition, finding large quantities of cash might mean that a loved one is purchasing or even selling drugs.

Getting Help for an Addicted Veteran

If you recognize any of these signs of addiction in yourself or a loved one, what can you do? Understand that above all, denial is one of the most common signs of addiction. Even when many signs of addiction are present, it can be hard to admit to yourself or a loved one that you are struggling with substances. 

It’s also important to know that if you are a veteran struggling with substance abuse or know someone who is, you are not alone. Veterans experience substance use disorder and mental health difficulties at a rate higher than the general public — at no fault of their own. The experience of service and combat can cause deep emotional scars, and many turn to drugs and alcohol in a desperate attempt to self-medicate. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Call our admissions team for a no-commitment conversation about your substance use or your loved one’s, and learn more about whether there’s reason to be concerned — and whether residential addiction treatment could help. 


Submit a Comment

How to Help a Veteran Find Freedom from Addiction

How to Help a Veteran Find Freedom from Addiction

The friends and family of America’s vets understand all too well what it feels like to be consumed with worry and fear for your loved one. When addiction is the foe your vet is facing, it’s even more painful. Addiction is a cunning, baffling, and powerful adversary. Luckily, no one has to face addiction alone – and that includes military families and the loved ones of vets.

Helping a veteran find freedom from addiction is possible for anyone, and it may be even easier than you think.