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Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse Among Veterans

Every year, thousands of troops depart from military service and rejoin their families and civilian communities. Given the demanding environments of the military and traumatizing experiences of combat, many veterans experience psychological distress that can be further complicated by substance use and related disorders. Research indicates that male veterans in the general U.S. population are at an elevated risk of suicide. In addition, among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who received care from the Department of Veterans Affairs between 2001 and 2005, nearly one third were diagnosed with mental health and/or psychosocial problems and one fifth were diagnosed with a substance use disorder.

What are the current findings of substance abuse among our veterans?
  • Combined data from 2004 to 2006 indicate that an annual average of 7.1 percent of veterans aged 18 or older (an estimated 1.8 million persons) suffered from substance use disorders last year. One quarter of veterans aged 18 to 25 met the criteria for substance use disorder in the past year compared with 11.3 percent of veterans aged 26 to 54 and 4.4 percent of veterans aged 55 or older. There was no differ­ence in findings between male and female veterans.
  • From 2004 to 2006, approximately 1.5 percent of veterans aged 18 or older (an estimated 395,000 persons) had co-occurring serious psychological disorders and substance use disorders.
  • An estimated 3.5 percent of veterans used marijuana in the past month compared with 3.0 percent of their non-veteran counterparts in 2003. Among both groups, heavy use of alcohol was more common than illicit drug use.
  • Heavy use of alcohol was more prevalent among veterans than comparable non-veterans, with an estimated 7.5 percent of veterans drinking heavily in the past month compared with 6.5 percent of their non-veteran counterparts. An estimated 56.6 percent of veterans used alcohol in the past month compared with 50.8 percent of their non- veteran counterparts in 2003. Heavy use of alcohol was also more prevalent among veterans, with an estimated 7.5 percent of veterans drinking heavily in the past month compared with 6.5 percent of their non-veteran counterparts.
  • An estimated 13.2 percent of veterans reported driving while under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year compared with 12.2 percent of comparable non-veterans


Links and Resources

National Survey on Drug Use and Health
Department of Veterans Affairs
Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

References:
  • “Serious Psychological Distress and Substance Use Disorder among Veterans”. The NSDUH Report. National Survey on Drug Use and Health. November 1, 2007.
  • “Substance Use, Dependence, and Treatment among Veterans”. The NSDUH Report. National Survey on Drug Use and Health. November 10, 2005.
  • “Alcohol Use and Alcohol-Related Risk Behaviors among Veterans”. The NSDUH Report. National Survey on Drug Use and Health. November 10, 2005.