Veterans and Substance Use Prevention

November 4, 2021

        Almost every year, thousands of troops return home from active duty and become military veterans in their respective communities. However, experiences from active duty may contribute to the high rates of substance abuse within this population. According to Teeters et al., 2017 more than 1 in 10 veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, slightly higher than the general population.1 Despite efforts by the US military to reduce alcohol consumption through the enactment of policies, heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders are of high prevalence within this community as it is seen as a cultural norm.2

        Environmental stressors specific to those in the military have been linked to a higher risk of substance use disorder (SUD); this includes deployment, combat exposure and post-deployment civilian/reintegration challenges.1 Additionally, age is shown to be a predictor of SUD prevalence as higher rates are associated with younger veterans. A study that looked at the prevalence of substance misuse among US veterans in the general population found that among male veterans, the rates of substance abuse were higher in those aged 18-25.3 This information can help inform behavioral professionals on the unique challenges that US military veterans may encounter depending on specific sociodemographic predictors.

        The Institute of Medicine (IOM) identified various barriers to substance use disorder care among veterans such as, limited access to care, insurance coverage, stigma and fear of negative consequences.4 Research on substance use prevention among the military reveals an underutilization in care such as counseling, as this may be a result of previously identified barriers.5 As a behavioral professional, it is always important to think about translating this research into practice. The risks of substance use disorder and the barriers to care in this population must be taken into consideration. In today’s day and age as healthcare systems work towards addressing the challenges of COVID-19, a research survey conducted by faculty at USC found evidence that veterans who had PTSD before the pandemic were now managing their symptoms with more frequent alcohol and cannabis use,6 thus placing importance in addressing the needs of veterans during the pandemic. A webinar from the Central East PTTC network focuses on Stress, Uncertainty and Mental Health in the Time of COVID. This webinar helps both mental health practitioners and medical providers better engage activated people in striving for their best health outcomes as a result of COVID.

        Additionally, the Central-East PTTC network offers a webinar that discusses how health care 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.

        Lastly, 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.


  1. Teeters 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
  2. Ames 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
  3. Hoggatt KJ, Lehavot K, Krenek M, Schweizer CA, Simpson T. Prevalence of substance misuse among US veterans in the general population. Am J Addict. 2017;26(4):357-365. doi:10.1111/ajad.12534
  4. Institute of Medicine. 2013. Substance Use Disorders in the U.S. Armed Forces. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  5. Larson MJ, Wooten NR, Adams RS, Merrick EL. Military Combat Deployments and Substance Use: Review and Future Directions. J Soc Work Pract Addict. 2012;12(1):6-27. doi:10.1080/1533256X.2012.647586
  6. Davis, J. & Pederson, E. a professor in the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work” (LINK:
Substance Use Prevention for Military Veterans November 2021
Princess Walker, TA Manager
Contributing Center(s):
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