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Post-Vietnam-Era Vets Have Highest Substance Use Rate

Last Updated: April 27, 2011.

Substance use rates are highest in war veterans who served in the post-Vietnam era, and in those who served in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan and have comorbid diagnoses of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, according to a study published in the May-June issue of the American Journal on Addictions.

WEDNESDAY, April 27 (HealthDay News) -- Substance use rates are highest in war veterans who served in the post-Vietnam era (VET), and in those who served in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) in Iraq and Afghanistan and have comorbid diagnoses of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, according to a study published in the May-June issue of the American Journal on Addictions.

Ismene L. Petrakis, M.D., from Yale University in West Haven, Conn., and colleagues examined the rates of diagnosed substance use disorders in 1,001,996 veterans of war. Based on data from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), substance use disorder diagnoses in veterans who were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after serving in OEF/OIF were compared to those with other psychiatric disorders. Substance use disorder diagnosis rates were also compared with veterans from other service eras.

The investigators found that 21 percent of VA patients with a selected mental disorder had a comorbid substance diagnosis. The highest rates of comorbidity were found in veterans who served in the VET (from 1973 to 1991), and in those who served in OEF/OIF and were diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Veterans with selected psychiatric diagnoses were more likely to also be diagnosed with a substance use disorder compared to veterans with PTSD.

"High rates of substance abuse are still found among veterans, particularly those with comorbid mental illness," the authors write. "What was surprising is the relatively low rate of comorbid substance abuse in those with PTSD compared to those with other psychiatric disorders."

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