Veterans Substance Abuse Disorder

Veterans Substance Abuse Disorder veterans substance abuse disorder

Veteran Substance addiction in the veteran community is something of concern in the United States  – and, in recent years, it’s only getting worse. There are currently nearly three million active duty service members, with nearly half-a-million service members in the United States Army alone, according to recent documents. Plus, more than 20 million veterans live in the United States. For veterans, physical and emotional challenges are real. Veterans are likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Those challenges put the men and women that defend our country into a higher risk category for drug and alcohol problems. On the bright side, there are numerous resources available today to help veterans struggling with drug addiction and substance abuse.

Veterans Substance Abuse Disorder veterans substance abuse disorder

Veteran Substance Abuse Statistics

Veteran Substance abuse issues are prominent in the veteran community. Approximately 7% of US veterans meet the criteria for a substance abuse disorder diagnosis, however, different age groups are at more risk. Veterans ages 18 to 25 are at the ultimate risk, with approximately 25% of veterans in this category who have addiction issues. Almost 10% of veterans who seek medical treatment at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are going to treat a Substance Use Disorder (SUD), including binge drinking, alcoholism, painkiller addiction, or stimulant addiction. One of the most common reasons veterans seek addiction treatment is to help with binge drinking, which is defined as drinking an excessive amount of alcohol over a short period of time. In recent years, the prevalence of veterans with opiate addiction has increased. More and more veterans are turning to prescription painkillers and street drugs to cope with their traumas. 

Veterans use substances to cope with PTSD and trauma, but there’s more to it than just that. They also use in response to diagnosed or yet-to-be diagnosed mental health issues. Readjusting to civilian life can be difficult and can lead to the use of substances to cope. Managing pain is another reason veterans seek relief from substances. Prescription drug abuse is prevalent in the veteran community. The number of active duty military service members who misused prescription drugs doubled in the six years from 2002 to 2008. Most prescription drug abuse involves the use of opioid painkillers, like Fentanyl, OxyContin, Oxycodone, Vicodin, and Percocet. Drug abuse can lead to trauma, homlessness, physical health problems, an increased risk of suicide, and mental health crisis. Here are some statistics about veterans who have SUD: 

  • More than 80% of veterans with SUD abuse alcohol
  • More than 25% of veterans with SUD abuse illegal drugs 
  • Nearly 10% of veterans with SUD have co-addictions, abusing alcohol and illegal drugs
Veterans Substance Abuse Disorder veterans substance abuse disorder

Facts about Addiction

  • Marijuana is the most popularly abused drug – more than 10% of veterans have reported using it in the past year
  • More than 10% of veterans sought addiction treatment for heroin use
  • Approximately 45,000 veterans met the diagnostic criteria for addiction to heroin (in 2018)
  • Approximately 41,000 veterans met the diagnostic criteria for addiction to painkillers (in 2018) 
  • The prescription painkillers most likely to be abused by veterans are hydrocodone, which goes by the brand names Norco and Vicodin 
  • More than 5% of veterans sought addiction treatment for cocaine use
  • Male veterans are more likely to suffer from SUD than their female counterparts

Why are Veterans at a Higher Risk for Developing Issues with Addiction?

The experience of war is a big cause of mental health and trauma issues for those returning home. For some, this experience can either lead to or worsen substance abuse issues. The statistics are daunting when looking at recent wars. Nearly 20% of soldiers who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from PTSD and meet DSM criteria for SUD. Around 90% of veterans with SUD who served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) also have co-occurring mental health disorders, or dual diagnosis. But, why is the risk of substance abuse so high?

  • Stigma and other barriers to treatment prevent veterans from getting the help they need. Some veterans may be reluctant to admit they have a problem because they fear being judged for getting treatment. Mental health and addiction advocates work hard to blast these stigmas, but they still exist.
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In conclusion

Substance use and abuse are major concerns for veterans, whether newly entering into civilian life or not. PTSD is a mental health condition that is closely linked to substance abuse. If you or someone you love is a veteran who is abusing substances, getting help now is essential. There are many resources for veterans, including on the Veteran’s Affairs website