Substance Use Disorders Among Veterans in a Nationally Representative Sample: Prevalence and Associated Functioning and Treatment Utilization

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2018 Nov;79(6):853-861. doi: 10.15288/jsad.2018.79.853.


Objective: Several epidemiological studies have reported that veterans and nonveterans have comparable substance use disorder (SUD) prevalence and SUD treatment rates for SUD and treatments of several types. No studies have compared functioning among veterans with SUD to veterans without SUD or to nonveterans.

Method: We investigated the prevalence of past-year and lifetime SUD (based on criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), overall and by substance, and estimated the association with physical and mental health functioning and treatment utilization and need among veterans and nonveterans in a nationally representative sample.

Results: Predicted prevalence of any past-year SUD, with and without tobacco use disorder (TUD), among veterans was 32.9% and 17.1%, and prevalence of any lifetime SUD, with and without TUD, was 52.5 and 38.7%, respectively. Veterans had higher prevalence of past-year and lifetime SUD for some substances (e.g., tobacco, alcohol) but not others (e.g., cannabis, opioid). Lower physical and mental health functioning was found among veterans, relative to nonveterans, and participants with SUD, relative to those without SUD, and veterans with SUD reported the lowest functioning across all domains. More veterans than nonveterans received any SUD treatment and SUD treatment in specific domains (e.g., self-help). About 70% of veterans with past-year SUD did not receive treatment, but only 5.4% reported needing and not receiving treatment.

Conclusions: Relative to nonveterans, veterans have higher prevalence of past-year TUD and lifetime alcohol use disorder or TUD and lower physical or mental health functioning. A minority of veterans receive SUD treatment, and few report unmet need for treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health / trends
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / epidemiology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / therapy
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Young Adult