November: Veterans and Substance Use Prevention
November is dedicated to honoring our nation’s veterans, observing how we may prevent substance use for this group, and understanding the many environmental stressors that may put one at risk.
Thousands of troops return home from active duty almost yearly and become military veterans in their respective communities. However, experiences from active duty may contribute to the high rates of substance misuse within this population. According to the Addiction Center, many veterans have Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD) from witnessing warfare or tragic events.1 It is said that more than 20% of veterans with PTSD also struggle with an addiction or dependence on drugs or alcohol. In a study by Teeters et al., they found that more than 1 in 10 veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, which is slightly higher than the general population.2 Despite efforts by the US military to reduce alcohol consumption through the enactment of policies, heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders are prevalent in this community as it is seen as a cultural norm.3 According to this study, a high risk of substance use disorder is typically linked to varying environmental stressors experienced by an individual, such as deployment, combat exposure, and challenges surrounding reintegration back into society post-deployment.
There have been many identified barriers concerning substance use disorder care for veterans. These include, but are not limited to: limited access to care, insurance coverage, and stigma.4 Additionally, research on substance use prevention has revealed an underutilization in counseling care, which may also be linked to the previously identified barriers.4
Although substance use prevention in veterans is recognized in November, it is essential to push for change year-round. The knowledge of these facts is critical for informing both the community and behavioral professionals on the unique challenges that US military veterans encounter and the specific sociodemographic predictors that may put them at a higher risk. As a behavioral professional, it is important to constantly think about how this research may translate into practice. This can start by identifying environmental stressors that those in the military may encounter and also identifying challenges they may face as they reintegrate into society. Prevention programs that consider barriers to care may successfully mitigate the high rates of substance use within this population.
For more information on how to best serve our military veterans, SAMHSA’s SMVF TA Center serves as a national resource to support states, territories, and local communities in strengthening their capacity to address the behavioral health needs of military and veteran families.
Additionally, the Central-East PTTC network offers a webinar that discusses how healthcare organizations can work towards a more inclusive definition of culture to better serve the military community by understanding culturally and linguistically appropriate service standards in behavioral health settings.
1Juergens J, Nagel DM. Why Veterans Turn to Drugs and Alcohol. Veterans and Addiction. https://www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/veterans/. Published May 4, 2015. Accessed October 21, 2022
2Teeters JB, Lancaster CL, Brown DG, Back SE. Substance use disorders in military veterans: prevalence and treatment challenges. Subst Abuse Rehabil. 2017;8:69-77. Published 2017 Aug 30. doi:10.2147/SAR.S116720
3Ames GM, Duke MR, Moore RS, Cunradi CB. The Impact of Occupational Culture on Drinking Behavior of Young Adults in the U.S. Navy. Journal of Mixed Methods Research. 2009;3(2):129-150. doi:10.1177/1558689808328534
4 Institute of Medicine. 2013. Substance Use Disorders in the U.S. Armed Forces. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.https://doi.org/10.17226/13441.