Tobacco Use Linked to Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Veterans

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The effects of life in the military may be taking an unwanted toll on our troops, even long after they return from active duty. According to a report in Medical News Today, soldiers as a group smoke more than their peers (by 10%) and they have a greater risk of using drugs and alcohol even after they return to civilian life.

The latest research used genetic markers to separate out those with an inborn propensity for drug or alcohol use and then looked at how smoking affected the different populations of veterans. According to the article,

"Findings revealed, after controlling the influence of these genotypes, that smokers performed notably worse than non-smokers on evaluations of general intelligence, learning and memory, global cognitive abilities, and processing speed. Critically, within the smoking group, more years of smoking were associated with worse cognitive function."

Being forced to quit

These results are important because they seem to show that smoking is a causative factor and not just an associated behavior. The distinction means that if smoking can be controlled (as with a military-wide ban), fewer veterans will develop other addictions. And the military is in a unique position to both enforce any ban and direct the impact to a younger population. The earlier someone starts abusing drugs or alcohol, the poorer the outcome.

Some will argue that putting your life on the line while in uniform is reason enough to allow any legal behaviors soldiers wish to pursue. But this is a false logic if the behavior is going to lead to long-term harm, in effect, hurting the very heroes we so admire.

Quitting voluntarily

There is a middle ground on offer – give soldiers more opportunities and resources to quit smoking themselves. On a voluntary basis, there can be no complaint of "forcing."

Education can be a useful tool as well. As this study shows, the consequences aren’t simply something that "might happen when I’m old" as with lung cancer and emphysema, but much more immediate – soon after discharge. Education will also help dispel the myths propagated and the legacy of clever tobacco marketers. Cigarettes do not calm people or keep them focused; in fact, as mentioned above, cognitive impairment is the outcome. How attractive is smoking if it makes you dumber?

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