Mental health charity Combat Stress finds veterans with alcohol addiction are putting off seeking help until their sixties


Research from Combat Stress, the UK’s leading mental health charity for former servicemen and women, has found that veterans are more likely to be admitted to hospital with physical health problems prior to being diagnosed with an alcohol issue. With pride deterring former servicemen and women from seeking help for alcohol misuse, it’s not until they reach their sixties that they receive treatment.  Combat Stress is now calling for more to be done to help veterans recognise the underlying reasons behind drinking problems and to seek help earlier.

The study, carried out in collaboration with Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust (PHT) and the King’s Centre for Military Health Research, looked at differences in alcohol misuse between veterans and the general public admitted to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth over an 18 month period.

It found that it was more common for veterans to present at hospital with physical health difficulties prior to being referred for support for alcohol. On average veterans were aged in their sixties when referred for support with alcohol difficulties and were admitted to hospital for longer periods of time compared to non-veterans. Given the cost of a night stay in a general NHS hospital ward, this could have considerable cost implications for the NHS.

Combat Stress’ Chief Executive Sue Freeth said:

“As many as 43% of veterans registered with Combat Stress have a current problem with alcohol misuse.

“From the conversations we have had with veterans being supported by Combat Stress, we’re all too aware that many of the veterans use alcohol or drugs to help them to manage their trauma and emotional health.

“This study shows that more support is needed to increase awareness among veterans of the dangers of drinking harmful levels of alcohol, to help them recognise they need help, and to assist them in engaging with specialist services sooner to access effective treatments so they can make a lasting recovery.”

Key points:

Retrospective anonymised data used for the study was taken from the medical records of more than 2,300 patients referred to the Alcohol Specialist Nurses Service at Queen Alexandra Hospital over an 18 month period between March 2014 and September 2015.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine

Combat Stress is currently piloting a Veterans’ Substance Misuse Case Management Service in seven locations across the UK. Funded with a £2 million grant from Libor for all services in the UK, and over £600,000 from the Big Lottery Fund for services in Scotland, it helps veterans access the most appropriate support services and has been successful in supporting their abstinence, preventing relapse, and integrating veterans into the community. For more information visit


For more information please contact Nicola Hudson, PR and Communications Officer, on 01372 587165 / 07711 590259 or at

Notes to editors:

Combat Stress is the UK’s leading mental health charity for veterans. Founded in 1919, our work is as vital today as it was after the First World War.

Demand for our services is rising – between 2010/11 and 2015/16 we had almost 10,000 referrals, an increase of 71%.

On average it takes 12 years after leaving the military for veterans to contact Combat Stress for help, by which time their condition is often highly complex. However veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are coming to Combat Stress much sooner.

We treat conditions including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. To help veterans rebuild their lives, we provide a range of free services:

  • Short-stay clinical treatment at one of our treatment centres in Ayrshire, Shropshire and Surrey
  • A specialist PTSD Intensive Treatment Programme – run at our three treatment centres
  • Outpatients – assessment by psychiatrists and psychologists enables us to diagnose, define and deliver the treatment veterans require
  • Occupational therapy – using meaningful and creative activity to encourage hope, wellbeing and recovery
  • Community Teams – a UK-wide network of Community Teams providing treatment and practical support to veterans
  • Veterans’ Substance Misuse Case Management Service – helping veterans to access the services for their drug and alcohol problems so their mental health issues can be addressed
  • A 24-hour Helpline for veterans, serving personnel and families (0800 138 1619)

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