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Study Examines Suicide Rates Among Veterans with Substance Abuse Problems

In an ongoing effort to learn more about addiction and to protect veterans, a research team from the University of Michigan and Department of Veterans Affairs has conducted a study to determine what sort of indicators can increase the likelihood of suicides among veterans. Their ultimate goal is to help prevent these factors and decrease the number of suicides among this population.

After analyzing data gathered from 4.4 million veterans, the group determined that those who suffer from mental health conditions and substance abuse are most at risk. While this may not be much of a surprise, one may inquire about the fact that the conditions were the result of their service, leaving them vulnerable and in need of real help. According to the research, veterans who suffer from these problems are twice as likely to commit suicide than their peers who do not have mental health conditions and do not suffer from drug abuse.

Drug abuse is a common problem among this group for several reasons. First, drugs often seem to be a better alternative than living with the emotional or physical reminders of combat and harsh living conditions. Although drugs and alcohol are ultimately very dangerous, many veterans are looking for a way to escape the pain and therefore self-medicating. Also, some veterans come back from being oversees and are confronted with having to navigate life while also suffering from PTSD, which has become increasingly more common.

“We hope these findings will help clinicians and health systems care for people with substance use disorders, with mental health conditions, and with both — and focus suicide prevention efforts accordingly. Substance use disorders may be important markers for suicide risk,” commented Kipling Bohnert, lead author of the study.

Due to the scope of the study, researchers were able to pinpoint what substances seem to elicit the most suicidal ideation and acts among the population of veterans. They revealed that those who abused sedatives and amphetamines had the highest chances of committing suicide after their discharge. The same was true for women who abused opioids.

The researchers, whose work appears in the journal Addiction, hope that this information will spur a more concentrated effort in helping veterans transition into everyday life after their tour is finished. For those who are already in the throes of addiction, providing necessary help through successful intervention plans and treatment programs are essential.

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