What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder (i.e. Alcoholism) is a medical condition that occurs when someone is unable to stop or control his or her use of alcohol despite negative occupational, social, or health consequences. This condition can range from mild to severe, with some of the more serious cases resulting in significant health issues such as liver disease, heart disease, stroke, and various kinds of cancer. Nearly 6 percent of American adults have some form of alcohol use disorder, with prevalence of this condition increasing over the past decade.

For those who think they or someone they know may have alcohol use disorder, consider the occurrence of any of the following symptoms in the past year:

  • Drinking more, or longer, than intended
  • Wanting to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t
  • Spend a lot of time drinking, or being sick or getting over other aftereffects
  • Wanted a drink so badly they couldn’t think of anything else
  • Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interfered with taking care of one’s home or family, caused job troubles, or caused school problems
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with family or friends
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting in order to drink

Any of these symptoms may be cause for concern. The more symptoms someone exhibits, the more urgently he or she will need to visit his or her doctor. 

Alcohol Use Disorder And Veterans

Among veterans, 1 out of every 10 soldiers who deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan develop alcoholism. For those who served prior to the Gulf War era, around 7 percent developed alcoholism. Many service members with alcoholism develop the condition secondary to another serious psychological condition such as PTSD or major depressive disorder. Nearly 20 percent of all veterans who have PTSD develop some form of substance use disorder, many of which are related to alcohol.

Individuals who experience trauma, regardless of whether or not they develop PTSD, are more likely to report drinking problems than those who do not. Given the abundance of potentially traumatic events many service members experience on a regular basis in the military, it is unsurprising that so many develop alcoholism. However, though many veterans use alcohol as a coping mechanism for PTSD, alcohol can actually make PTSD symptoms worse by increasing feelings of:

  • Numbness or lack of emotion
  • Social isolation
  • Anger and irritability
  • Depression
  • Hypervigilance (always feeling on guard or jittery)

Excessive alcohol use can also cause sleep problems by decreasing how restful one’s sleep is, which when compounded with the sleeping problems commonly associated with PTSD can result in significant barriers to quality rest. 

How The VA Rates Alcoholism

Due to the high prevalence of alcohol use disorder among veterans, the VA has recognized alcoholism as a secondary service-connected condition, meaning that veterans can claim disability benefits for alcoholism provided that the alcoholism was caused by another service connected condition. For example, a veteran with service-connected PTSD who uses alcohol to cope with nightmares could get disability benefits for his or her alcohol use disorder, but only as an additional condition alongside his or her PTSD, not as its own rated impairment. So, for a veteran with PTSD and alcohol use disorder, there would not be a separate schedular disability rating for the alcohol use disorder. The VA would rate both conditions as a single condition because the alcohol use disorder is the result of the PTSD.

Alcohol use disorder can also cause physical impairments, which makes those impairments also eligible for service connection. For example, long term excessive use of alcohol tends to damage the liver and can lead to cirrhosis. If a veteran can prove that his or her PTSD led to his or her alcoholism, and the alcoholism caused the cirrhosis, he or she could receive compensation for the cirrhosis even though it is not directly related to his or her service.

Finally, veterans can receive disability ratings for their alcohol use disorder as long as it is not a result of the veteran’s own “willful misconduct”. The simple drinking of alcoholic beverages is not itself wilful misconduct, but the VA considers the deliberate drinking of a known poisonous substance to be willful misconduct. If intoxication results in disability or death, the VA will consider that disability or death to be the result of willful misconduct. Any organic diseases or disabilities which are the result of chronic alcohol overuse, whether out of compulsion or otherwise, are not willful misconduct. 

Getting Service Connected For Alcohol Use Disorder

The most important evidence a veteran can provide when applying for disability benefits for his or her alcohol use disorder is medical records. Ideally, these records will show (1) a history of alcohol abuse starting in service or shortly after discharge and (2) a diagnosis for a psychological condition that could be causing the alcoholism that began exhibiting symptoms in service or shortly after discharge. This type of evidence is important because it can show the VA that the veteran’s alcoholism is the result of his or her service-connected mental impairment.

Additional helpful evidence could include service personnel records. These records can provide the VA with information about any incidents that may show the veteran exhibiting intoxicated behavior or other such signs of early-stage alcoholism.

Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorder

For veterans who would like to seek help treating their alcohol use disorder, please check out the VA’s list of resources on this subject. The VA offers medication, counseling, and other therapy options, in addition to providing treatment for associated conditions like PTSD and depression. Look at their substance use treatment page for more information.

Help With Your Secondary VA Claim For Alcohol Use Disorder

If you are struggling with alcohol use disorder as a result of a service connected condition, and would like help getting disability compensation for your alcoholism, please contact our office today. Our experienced veterans disability lawyers are ready to help you get the schedular disability rating you deserve.