Research by the UK's leading veterans' mental health charity Combat Stress has found that veterans are significantly more likely to abuse alcohol than the general public, but many veterans with alcohol addictions are putting off seeking help until their sixties.
With Alcohol Awareness Week taking place (13 -19th November), it is vital that veterans are conscious of the increased risk they face in terms of alcohol abuse, and are aware of the support and services available to them.
Combat Stress is the UK's leading charity for veterans' mental health, providing free specialist treatment to former servicemen and women with mental health conditions. We have undertaken extensive research into alcohol misuse amongst veterans, with evidence showing that former service personnel are 14% more likely to abuse alcohol than the general public.
Our research, in collaboration with Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust (PHT) and the King's Centre for Military Health Research, found that on average veterans were aged in their sixties when referred for support with alcohol difficulties.
They also tended to be admitted to hospital for longer periods of time than the general public. Seeking support at a later stage, and spending longer periods in hospital, can have a considerable detrimental impact on veterans' physical and mental health and wellbeing, leading to further issues.
This increased risk is exacerbated by the fact that most veterans put off seeking help for alcohol misuse until they reach their sixties.
That's why it is so important that we use Alcohol Awareness Week to highlight not only the issue, but also the help and support available for veterans dealing with alcohol misuse. More needs to be done to help these men and women recognise the underlying reasons behind drinking problems, and to encourage them to seek help earlier.
As many as 43% of veterans registered with Combat Stress have a current problem with alcohol misuse. All too often veterans use alcohol or drugs to help them to manage their trauma and emotional health, resulting in further problems.
That's why we have worked with a number of NHS trusts and specialist addiction services across the UK and have developed a Substance Misuse Case Management Service (SMCMS).
This is a first-of-its-kind project, launched in response to the prevalence of substance misuse in the veteran population compared to the civilian population. It enables our specialist mental health nurses to support veterans experiencing mental health issues and alcohol and substance misuse disorders to access tailored and effective substance misuse treatments.
We know that veterans are a hard-to-reach group, so we have sought to place our nurses in existing services and partner with other organisations, to ensure our service is highly visible to the veteran population. Our work clearly shows that more support is needed to increase awareness amongst veterans of the dangers of drinking harmful levels of alcohol. We are working hard to help veterans across the country understand the risks and recognise when they need help.
If you are dealing with alcohol or substance abuse then you are not alone.Veterans' Gateway can help you access the dedicated and free support available through Combat Stress and other partner organisations.
We want to help all veterans engage with the specialist services they need as soon as possible so they can make a lasting recovery. Please do get in touch if you, or someone you know, could benefit from our support.