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Veterans and Substance Abuse

Veterans and Substance Abuse

Substance use disorder is a mental health condition in which the sufferer has a physical and psychological dependence on drugs or alcohol. This causes significant distress on one’s health, happiness, and relationships with friends and family. Unfortunately, one of the populations that are most susceptible to this painful condition is United States veterans.

More specifically, 1 in 10 veterans that have sought out care at the US Veterans Administration has been diagnosed with a substance use disorder1, a higher number than that of the general population. There is no one cause to this staggering number, with multiple factors contributing to the correlation between veterans and substance abuse.

3 Reasons For the Connection Between Veterans and Substance Abuse

Some of the key reasons that give insight on the higher rates of substance use disorder in veterans over the general population include:

#1: High Prevalence Of PTSD In Veteran Population

A dual diagnosis is when someone is struggling concurrently with mental health disorder and substance use disorder. PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is one of the many mental health conditions that can co-occur with substance abuse. One study found that 46.4% of individuals with PTSD also had a substance use disorder.2

While veterans may be struggling with anxiety, depression, bipolar, or any other mental health condition, one of the most common conditions amongst this population is PTSD. This is because individuals develop the disorder after witnessing a traumatic event or experiencing one firsthand, commonly in the military. In cases of PTSD, alcohol and other drugs are often used to block out or numb the severity of traumatic memories and flashbacks.

A couple of the major traumatic events that lead veterans to develop PTSD, and subsequently a substance use disorder, include the following:

  • Exposure To Combat: when veterans are exposed to combat in service, the prevalence of soldiers with PTSD is as high as 25%.3
  • Sexual Assault And Harassment: a shocking 23% of women in the military report experiences of sexual assault while on duty, a common event associated with PTSD.4

#2: Access To Prescription Opioid Drugs In Veteran Population

Opioids are a highly addictive group of drugs that treat severe pain. This includes oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine, to name a few. Whether it’s to help with the pain from an injury in combat or to treat chronic health issues after leaving the military, doctors frequently prescribe opioids to veterans.

More specifically, veterans with an opioid prescription in the VA healthcare system increased from 17% to 24% from 2001 to 2009.5 Because of their addictive qualities and ability to evoke feelings of euphoria and pain relief, the increased access to these drugs is likely contributing to the prevalence of substance abuse in veterans.

#3: Increased Rates of Homelessness In Veteran Population

While the rates of homelessness after the military have made progress in decreasing over the years, there are still sufficient numbers of homeless veterans. In 2019 alone, there were 37,085 veterans experiencing homelessness6, and it is estimated that around 11% of the homeless adults in the United States are veterans.7

After leaving the military world, veterans are at an increased risk of becoming homeless due to reasons such as lack of social support or untreated psychiatric conditions. And since homeless people often use substances to cope with their unfortunate predicament or were already using beforehand, veterans can fall into this trap as well. More specifically, a government study found that 70% of homeless veterans also struggle with substance abuse.7

Treatment Options For Veterans Struggling With Substance Use Disorder

The best treatment option for veterans struggling with substance abuse is to find a rehab program specializing in veteran care. Even better is a program with clinical staff members that are also veterans. Specialized, veteran-focused programs will bring more knowledge about the unique experience and mental health concerns of veterans as patients.

Some of the treatment methods at Spring Gardens Recovery that help in treating veterans include:

Spring Gardens Recovery Is Here To Support Veterans

Veterans give so much time and effort to the military, making unequaled personal sacrifices for the United States. They deserve the best care and support when struggling with a substance use disorder for drugs or alcohol. That is why Spring Gardens Recovery offers a specialized drug and alcohol rehab program exclusively for US military veterans. 

To learn more about the ways we assist veterans through our HONOR Veterans Program, don’t hesitate to give us a call or contact us online.


[1] https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/military-life-substance-use (1 in 10)
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3811127/ (ptsd)
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568834/ (ptsd 25%)
[4] https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_veterans.asp
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5587184/ (opioids)
[6] https://www.va.gov/HOMELESS/pit_count.asp (homelessness 37000)
[7] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/substance-use-military-life

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