U.S. Military Veteran Versus Nonveteran Use of Licit and Illicit Substances


Introduction: To provide up-to-date substance use surveillance data among U.S. military veterans versus nonveterans, this study assesses current use of tobacco products, alcohol, marijuana, prescription pain relievers, tranquilizers, sedatives, stimulants, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, inhalants, and hallucinogens.

Methods: Pooled data were from the 2015-2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a nationally representative, self-reported survey of the U.S. adult non-institutionalized population. Military veterans were those who had “ever been in the United States Armed Forces” and were “now separated/retired from reserves/active duty” (n=7,301). Nonveterans were those who had never been in the U.S. Armed forces (n=121,366). Age- and gender-stratified weighted prevalence estimates were calculated and compared with chi-square tests. All analyses were conducted in 2019.

Results: Illicit substance use, including marijuana and cocaine, was generally lower among veterans than nonveterans, whereas use of licit substances such as tobacco and alcohol was higher among veterans than nonveterans. The most commonly used substances among veterans were tobacco and alcohol. Among male participants aged 18-25 years, 59.8% of veterans reported past-12-month cigarette/cigar smoking (vs 46.6% of nonveterans), whereas 17.6% reported heavy drinking (vs 12.2% of nonveterans). For both cigarette/cigar smoking and binge drinking, there was a marked narrowing of the male-female gap in prevalence with increasing age among veterans. Female veterans aged 18-25 years reported significantly higher opioid use than their nonveteran counterparts (54.7% vs 35.0%); they also had the highest prevalence of opioid misuse (15.3%) than any other group.

Conclusions: Intensified efforts are needed to reduce substance use among veterans and provide cessation and mental health services.

Agaku I, Odani S, Nelson JR. U.S. Military Veteran Versus Nonveteran Use of Licit and Illicit Substances. Am J Prev Med. 2020 Nov;59(5):733-741. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2020.04.027.


Click here to download the entire publication.

Recent Publications