Alcohol Is the Most Commonly Abused Substance Among Veterans

By John Lavitt 12/09/15

Many who have served in combat situations have a history of substance abuse issues.

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A new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has revealed that alcohol use disorder continues to be the number one reason for veterans to enter substance abuse treatment.

Given the predominance of PTSD and battlefield trauma, many veterans have a history of substance abuse issues. Fighting on the home front to cope with these painful experiences, veterans often turn to alcohol and drugs as a form of self-medication. Such unhealthy behavior often results directly in the need for substance abuse treatment with alcohol as the primary substance that is being abused.

The Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) is a national database of substance abuse treatment admissions at publicly funded facilities. According to TEDS data for 2013, there were about 62,000 admissions of veterans. The most common primary substance of abuse among veteran admissions was alcohol (65.4%), followed by heroin (10.7%) and cocaine (6.2%).

Since TEDS excludes admissions to Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities, the data only represents veterans who chose to seek help in a non-VA facility. Veterans were also less likely to report marijuana (5.5 vs. 13.4%) or heroin (10.7 vs. 20.9%) as the primary substance of abuse. Yet the data remains convincing that veterans’ abuse of alcohol is more extreme than in the civilian population. And 65.4% of veteran admissions were more likely to report alcohol as their primary substance of abuse as opposed to 37.4% of non-veteran admissions.

"Veterans have a unique profile of alcohol dependent subtypes that do not appear to be simply a reduction to a severity spectrum," wrote the authors of a recent study at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System at Yale University. Given the combined complexity and severity of challenges faced by veterans, SAMHSA offers specific support to help treatment professionals.

If you need to access such help, SAMHSA provides information on working with military personnel and veterans here.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.