Diagnosis of a substance abuse disorder – the inability to cope with daily life with abusing some type of substance – is about the same for veterans and civilians.However, when it comes to the factors leading to substance abuse -- and possible dependence on a substance -- that is where the parallels separate.
The culture of the military, the experiences of veterans and struggle to fit in is at the root of substance abuse among veterans.
Other factors contributing to substance abuse of veterans include:
- PTSD and TBI – About 18.5 percent of returning veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars say they experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or depression, and 19.5 percent reported Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).
- Substance Abuse Disorder – About 20 percent of those veterans with PTSD also have a Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD). Veterans with PTSD also tend to be binge drinkers.
- Culture encourages alcohol use – Alcohol use is high among veterans, although men are more likely to abuse alcohol than women. About 23 percent of male veterans engage in binge drinking and 7 percent are heavy drinkers. Binge drinking is having had 5 or more drinks one day in the past 30 days, and heavy drinking is having that same amount 5 days in the past 30 days.
- Coping with war – Screenings of soldiers returning from war found that 25 percent had signs of alcohol misuse. That high use is blamed on dealing with life-threatening situations and what they saw on the battlefield.
- Rising prescription drug abuse – Non-medical use of prescription drugs has risen from 2 percent in 2002 to 11 percent in 2011. Part of the problem may be veterans being treated for pain on the battlefield, and then becoming addicted to those painkillers.
- Women face unique problems – About 25 percent of women suffer PTSD related to sexual trauma of everything from sexual harassment to rape. Women are also the fastest rising segment of homeless veterans.
- Difficulty fitting in – Alcohol abuse among members of the National Guard is nearly twice the civilian population, but the triggers may not be what occurred while they were deployed. Instead it is coping with financial issues, employment, and martial problems after returning home that is being blamed for the rise in alcohol abuse.