Substance Use - Women Veterans Health Care
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Women Veterans Health Care

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Substance Use

Not everyone who drinks or takes drugs ends up with a substance use disorder. However, when people are stressed, anxious, depressed, or have other mental health challenges, they may be more likely to have trouble controlling alcohol and drug use. People with substance use disorders (SUDs) may be unable to control their use of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs. This can lead to problems at home and work and to long-term health concerns.

SUDs are common, especially among younger Veterans and Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Increasing numbers of women Veterans are seeking treatment for SUD—with more than half of those seeking treatment for alcohol use. Women Veterans may face unique challenges from military service that can lead to substance use, such as chronic pain, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or military sexual trauma (MST).

If you're struggling with alcohol or drug use, you're not alone. Help is available.

What services does VA provide for substance use problems?

VA offers a variety of treatment options that can be tailored to fit individual needs, preferences, and situations. These include evidence-based treatments such as medications, different types of therapy, and contingency management (giving rewards for staying away from unhealthy behavior). These treatments can help you address urges and cravings and help you develop skills and strategies to reduce your substance use. Programs and services depend on your specific needs. Services and treatments available through VA include:

  • Substance use screening and assessment
  • Medications: Highly effective medications are available for SUD conditions such as alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder.
  • Therapy: Evidence-based therapies are among the most effective treatments for SUD. Examples include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET). These and other types of therapy are offered in different settings (e.g., marriage and family counseling; outpatient or residential care).
  • Working with Peer Specialists: Peer specialists are Veterans (trained and hired by VA) who have experienced and recovered from a mental health condition. As members of your treatment team, peer specialists help you design your own recovery plan, using tools such as personal goal setting and targeted coping skills training. They can also connect you with VA and local resources to help you find meaningful roles and activities in your community.
  • Opioid overdose prevention: VA urges Veterans to learn more about how to stop overdose. VA offers opioid overdose prevention, including naloxone — a medication that reverses opioid overdose—at no cost to VA patients at—risk for overdose. Ask your provider if naloxone is right for you.

Treatment programs offer evening and weekend hours. Explore more potential treatment options at VA by visiting our Treatment page.

How do I access services for substance use problems at VA?

If you already have a VA health care provider, let them know what you're going through. Work with them to find a program that is right for you. Telehealth care is offered if you don't live close to a VA or prefer to see a mental health provider over the phone or computer. To set up telephone or video appointments, send your health care team a secure message on My HealtheVet by visiting www.myhealth.va.gov.

If you don't already use VA health care, you can also use the following online tools:

If you have questions or can't find what you're looking for, you can call, text, or chat online with the Women Veterans Call Center (WVCC) at 855-829-6636 to get help and find available resources and services in your area. Trained women representatives can also help you with issues such as:

  • Enrolling in VA health care if you have not already
  • Setting up a medical appointment in your area
  • Answering questions about eligibility (including questions about disability ratings) and other VA benefits like employment, education, and home loans

WVCC representatives are available Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET, and Saturday, 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET.

All former Service members and Veterans are eligible for one year of free mental health care services, regardless of discharge status. Even if you are not eligible to receive other VA health care, you may still be able to get certain health care services, like care related to military sexual trauma (MST) (that is, experiences of sexual assault or sexual harassment during military service).

If you do not have VA health care benefits but you've served in a combat zone, get counseling, alcohol and drug assessment, and other support at one of our 300 community Vet Centers. MST-related care is also available at Vet Centers, and you don't have to have combat service. Contact a Vet Center and ask to speak with someone about getting help for substance use.

All service members and Veterans can use crisis resources (for example, someone at risk for overdosing). It does not matter what your discharge status is or if you are enrolled in VA health care. If you see someone showing signs of overdose or who is in immediate danger, dial 911. If you're worried that you or a loved one is at risk of overdosing, get help now. Connect with the Veterans Crisis Line anytime, day or night. You can call, text, or chat online with caring, qualified VA responders. Many of them are Veterans or family members of Veterans.

If you have hearing loss, call TTY: 800-799-4889.

Where can I find more information, help, and resources for SUD:

Bottom line: Support is available if you want it. Even if none of these resources appeal to you, get help. Talk about it with someone; try something new. If you are struggling, the worst thing you can do is nothing. Don't be afraid to lean on your Veteran community and please consider reaching out to VA if you would like to learn more about what is available.