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Study shows high rates of substance use disorders among veterans with mental illness

A large number of soldiers returning home are struggling with a wide range of psychological difficulties. An estimated 30 percent of Iraq war veterans have been diagnosed with mental health issues and research shows their conditions often become more serious, instead of improving, a year after leaving the battlefield.

Now findings published today in the American Journal on Addictions show veterans suffering from mental health disorders also tend to have high rates of substance use disorders. In the study (subscription required), researchers used data from the Department of Veterans Affairs to analyze rates of substance use disorders among individuals who served in Iraq and Afghanistan who were also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychiatric disorders. According to the release:

A total of 1,001,996 VA patients were diagnosed with [a major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, dysthymia, or an anxiety disorder]. The rates of substance use disorders among those with mental illness ranged from 21-35%.

Results show that there were high rates of substance use disorders found among veterans with mental illness, with the highest rates of substance abuse occurring among those with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

In their conclusion, researchers noted:

The results from this study might be useful in program planning and for understanding the needs of veterans of different eras. For example, in determining the needs of veterans from the current conflicts, it seems that those with serious mental illness are particularly in need of services to address a comorbid substance use disorder.

Previously: Keith Humphreys: Drug-addiction treatment programs for military families are outdated, Stanford program helps vets with mental-health needs, Are veterans with PTSD at higher risk for medical illnesses? and Can training soldiers to meditate combat PTSD?

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