Indiana University Bloomington

Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

Veterans and Substance Abuse

Soldiers returning from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq are already suffering from or are at high risk of developing substance abuse issues, particularly with alcohol and prescription medications.  A recent study indicates that 43% of active duty military personnel reported binge drinking within the past month.  Prescription medications such as sedatives and pain killers containing opiates are regularly prescribed for veterans dealing with stress and pain. These medications are reportedly readily available with or without prescriptions in combat zones (Curley, 2009).

Because soldiers returning from a war zone have been exposed to the constant threat of death and may have witnessed killings and possibly killed innocent people, there is an obvious risk of psychological damage.  Many veterans return home and face the task of re-socialization with very little emotional preparation or support.  The military’s "culture of strength" can make it even more difficult for soldiers or veterans experiencing post traumatic stress syndrome or PTSD to reach out for help because doing so may expose weakness and put them at risk of being labeled as cowards (Aronson, 2005). 

Strategies for dealing with substance abuse among soldiers and veterans include the recent passage of the "Veterans Substance Abuse Disorder Prevention and Treatment Act of 2008" which seeks to improve substance abuse services for returning military personnel by working with state agencies to ensure that effective programs and services are being delivered.  The delivery of evidence based care in all settings, investing in ongoing research as well as monitoring and promoting quality care are essential for the mental health of returning veterans and soldiers currently serving (Veterans Testimony, 2008).

--- Press Release
By Courtney Stewart,   12/18/2009