Drug Abuse Problem among Veterans
Thousands of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan wars have experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and other illnesses and injuries that often contribute to substance abuse and addiction, serious overdose, homelessness, and suicide. Left untreated, these medical conditions also contribute to violations of the law, especially nonviolent drug offenses. In 2004, roughly 140,000 veterans were in U.S. state and federal prisons, with tens of thousands more in county jails. Research shows that the greatest predictive factor for the imprisonment of veterans is substance abuse.
Although the 2008 Department of Defense Health Behavior Survey revealed general reductions over time in tobacco use and illicit drug use, substance abuse was reported to have increased in other areas, such as prescription drug abuse and heavy alcohol use. In fact, prescription drug abuse doubled among U.S. military personnel from 2002 to 2005 and almost tripled between 2005 and 2008.
Alcohol abuse is the most predominant problem in the military and one which poses a significant health risk. A study of Army soldiers screened 3 to 4 months after returning from deployment to Iraq showed that 27% met the criteria for alcohol abuse. The result has been linked to harmful behaviors, such as drinking and driving and/or using illicit drugs.
Research findings highlight the need to improve screening and access to care for alcohol-related problems among service members returning from combat deployments. Such screening may be done randomly and conveniently through the use of alcohol testing kits.
Drug or alcohol use frequently accompanies mental health problems. Existing data shows drug and alcohol involvement in 30% of the Army’s suicide deaths from 2003 to 2009 and in more than 45% of non-fatal suicide attempts from 2005 to 2009.
Many government agencies, researchers, and public health entities are working together to adapt and test proven prevention and treatment interventions for potential drug and alcohol use in the military, particularly among veterans and their families. To address the social problems associated with drug use, researchers support by the National Institute on Drug Abuse are developing and testing innovative treatment approaches with veterans.
In one project, researchers are using smartphones and wearable wireless sensors to record actual responses to stress among veterans suffering from addiction and trauma. The data will be compiled and analyzed to predict relapse.
NIDA-supported research is also aimed at improving veterans’ access to drug treatment, including adapting Internet-based interventions and studying the use of drug courts. Drug courts have demonstrated effectiveness in addressing nonviolent crimes committed by drug abusers, leading them into needed treatment instead of prison. Specialized drug courts for military veterans may offer opportunity to access services and support they may not otherwise receive.
Drug Abuse Problem among Veterans
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