Male Vets More Likely to Have Alcohol, Drug-Related Dependencies than Female Vets

Posted on November 18th, 2010

A new long-term study on the U.S. veteran population has found that female veterans are less likely to have alcohol or drug-related problems compared to their male counterparts, yet both genders are just as likely to abuse prescription drugs.

Previous studies on the mental health of veterans have found that veterans are more susceptible to long-term mental disorders and substance abuse problems than the general population. However, identifying mental health disparities among veterans themselves has largely been understudied, even though recognizing servicemembers who may be at an increased risk for specific mental health problems may help the health care industry provide better outreach and treatment to those individuals. Now, new data on veterans’ health from the annual National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)—a questionnaire survey administered to the target population—is revealing that such disparities may very well exist.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality—a branch of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), female veterans between the ages of 20–39 years are much less likely to engage in dangerous drinking behavior such as binge drinking, or to use substances like tobacco and illicit drugs than their male counterparts. After analyzing survey data from 2002 to 2009, researchers found that 43.2% of male veterans engage in binge-drinking behavior (consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in the same drinking period), while only 22.9% of female veterans did the same. Similarly, a reported 13.1% of male veterans use illicit substances, compared to 9.6% of female veterans. A wide disparity also existed between male and female cigarette consumption: 40.9% of male veterans reported cigarette use, while only 33.4% of female veterans regularly used cigarettes.

However, both male and female veterans were almost equally as likely to abuse prescription medications, a health epidemic that has plagued all sociodemographics across the U.S. as well. An estimated 4% of male veterans and 3.5% of female veterans reported non-medical use of prescription medications—including pain relievers, stimulants, sedatives, or tranquilizers—for illicit purposes.

Even though both male and female veterans may be prone to behavioral and mood disorders following their service, the two groups may deal with different types of psychological conditions. For example, the results of the NSDUH study reveals that male veterans are more likely to fall victim to drug and alcohol addiction, but female veterans are more likely to deal with unique psychological stress such as working in a male-dominated profession or sexual assault and harassment, in addition to their risks of substance abuse and mental disorders. Because U.S. military personnel volunteer their personal safety and wellbeing for the sake of their country, it is one of SAMHSA’s priorities to ensure that their mental health needs are met upon their return, according to a press release from the organization. Female servicemembers, who have become increasingly more apparent in the U.S.’s active military force over the past several decades, pose different challenges to the health care industry that must be identified and met with reliable, accessible mental health services.

SAMHSA’s full report on the study, Female Veterans Aged 20–39 less likely to Use Most Harmful Substances than Male Counterparts, can be accessed at //oas.samhsa.gov/spotlight/FemaleVeterans.pdf.

Source: HealthDay, Robert Preidt, Women Veterans Less Likely Than Male Peers to Abuse Drugs, Alcohol, November 11, 2010

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