What Statistics Show About Veteran Substance Abuse and Why Proper Treatment is Important

Veteran substance abuse is a growing problem in the USA. As military members return from deployment suffering from physical and mental health problems and disabilities due to their experiences while deployed, substance abuse becomes more prevalent. Combat today is vastly different than it was even 40-50 years ago, and the new war on terror has increased the trauma and emotional toll combat has had on our service members.

Prescription drug abuse is on the rise among veterans because many are treated with powerful narcotic pain medications for injuries. Over time, veterans can become dependent on these drugs and eventually an addiction can develop. Alcohol abuse and addiction is also more common among the military population while some other substances are used far less frequently and are far less of an issue.

Why is Veteran Substance Abuse so Common?

There are several different reasons why veteran substance abuse is so common. These service members have gone through some very tough and traumatic experiences while they were deployed, and this has left psychological or physical scars, sometimes both. Substance abuse may be an attempt to self-medicate or to deal with problematic symptoms of mental or physical disorders or injuries.

Any veteran who has issues with alcohol or drug abuse should seek proper substance abuse treatment as soon as possible. Veterans who have a substance abuse issue can contact the US Department of Veterans Affairs for treatment program options. This help can be sought in the private sector also. Substance abuse is a problem that will not just go away.

veteran substance abuse

The Links between Substance Abuse, Depression, and Suicide Among Veterans

A number of studies have shown that there are links between veteran substance abuse, depression, and suicide. In one study that involved roughly 600 veterans who were deployed to either Afghanistan or Iraq, 39 percent of the vets were screened and showed positive for probable alcohol abuse. 3 percent of the vets screened were positive for probable drug use.

A larger study that involved more than 675,000 active duty personnel determined that the rate of both substance use disorders and depression has increased among active members of the military. Another study determined that the rate of suicide across all military services in the USA increased between 2005 and 2007.

The Veterans Alcohol and Drug Dependence Rehabilitation Program

The Veterans Alcohol and Drug Dependence Rehabilitation Program is a veteran substance abuse treatment and rehab program operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The program offers a variety of therapies and support services to eligible veterans who have a substance abuse disorder. Treatment services are provided at numerous VA medical centers and clinics around the country.

In order to qualify for veteran substance abuse treatment through the VA the veteran must be enrolled in the VA health care system. In addition, the veteran must have a discharge that is not dishonorable. Honorable, General, and Under Honorable discharges are usually eligible.

Why are Some Service Members Hesitant to Use the VA for Substance Abuse Treatment?

For some who need veteran substance abuse treatment the VA may not be the preferred treatment provider for a variety of reasons. The wait times at some VA locations can be extensive. There is still a stigma associated with substance abuse, and some veterans may feel that they could receive better treatment and care in the private medical sector instead.

Rural Areas May Pose Unique Challenges to Effective Substance Abuse Treatment

Another potential obstacle to proper veteran substance abuse treatment is location, and vets in rural areas may have far fewer treatment options open to them. In some cases when there is not an appropriate VA facility within a reasonable distance a veteran may be able to seek private-sector care that is covered by the government.

Substance Abuse and PTSD

In many cases, veteran substance abuse and PTSD or other mental health issues are co-occurring disorders, and both disorders must be treated in order for the veteran to fully recover. If the substance abuse is addressed and treated but the other mental health disorders are not then the substance abuse is far more likely to start again in the future.


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National Veterans Foundation

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