New research from the University of Michigan suggests that veterans battling post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and substance abuse disorders face a greater risk of death.
The study, which includes findings from veterans returning from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the first to assess the combined impact of drug or alcohol use disorders in association with PTSD.
Kipling Bohnert, Ph.D., the study’s lead author, says the research sheds new light on the importance of treating both substance use and post-traumatic stress disorders in veterans.
“Attention needs to be paid to veteran patients with PTSD, with an emphasis on identifying those who might also have a problem with drug or alcohol use,” Bohnert said. “This study highlights the potential importance of effective treatment for both conditions in helping veterans after they’ve returned from conflict.”
Prior studies have linked an increased risk of death among veterans with PTSD, but this study is the first to highlight the association between substance use disorders, PTSD and mortality.
The study was published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Young veterans, those 45 and under, appear especially vulnerable to both injury and non-injury-related death when PTSD is combined with substance abuse.
Injury-related death included homicides, suicides and accidents, while non-injury related deaths included heart disease, cancer and other health problems.
Bohnert said more research is necessary to figure out why younger veterans exhibit a stronger tie between substance use disorders and death.
Federic C. Blow, Ph.D., the paper’s senior author, believes the research might be helpful for physicians in deciding the best way to treat their patients.
“In theory, a treatment program that addresses both issues – substance use and PTSD – should reduce the risk of death from all causes, and this may be especially true for the nation’s youngest veterans,” Blow said.
Source: University of Michigan