Male Veterans with History of Sexual Assault are More Likely to Engage in Unsafe Drinking than Veterans with No History of Sexual Assault
Although many studies have documented the link between substance use and history of sexual assault in women, few have examined this relationship in men, and surprisingly little research has explored specific patterns of alcohol use and types of illicit drugs used in men with a history of sexual assault, particularly male Veterans. This study explored the rates of sexual assault in male Veterans reporting alcohol misuse – and the potential differences in alcohol use patterns and alcohol-related characteristics in those with and without a history of sexual assault. The study focused on a national sample of male Veterans (n=880) in VA outpatient mental health clinics who had received a brief alcohol intervention (BAI) between 5/08 and 5/10. Investigators also examined the types of illicit drugs used in the previous 90 days and whether male Veterans reporting sexual assault (n=84) were at greater odds of using these substances compared with Veterans with no history of sexual assault (n=796). Among the 880 study participants, 9.5% had experienced sexual assault at some point in their lives. Measures included: sexual assault and other risk factors for unsafe drinking, typical alcohol consumption, consequences of alcohol use, and illicit substance use (e.g., heroin, cocaine, cannabis).
Findings showed that male Veterans reporting sexual assault are more likely to engage in increased alcohol consumption, experience more lifetime alcohol-related consequences, and have more risk factors for unsafe drinking when compared with their peers who have no history or sexual assault. In addition, the odds of using any illicit substance in the last 90 days were three times higher in the sexual assault group. The most commonly used illicit substances were cannabis, cocaine, and opiates. There also was a two-to-four times greater likelihood of almost all risk factors for unsafe drinking in the sexual assault group. Some of the risk factors for unsafe drinking most commonly reported by those with sexual assault histories included: using alcohol and/or other drugs to cope with PTSD and depression, sexual dysfunction, and taking medication for a psychiatric or mental health concern. Male Veterans with sexual assault histories also were more likely to report having health problems such as hepatitis C and diabetes, which parallels prior research showing associations between sexual assault and liver disease or obesity. Authors note that SUD treatment settings may be a context in which a history of sexual assault is high and that it may interact with core indicators of treatment success (e.g., psychiatric and physical comorbidities). Therefore, universal sexual assault screening, like the approach in VA, may be relevant for men presenting to SUD treatment settings.
Cucciare M, Ghaus S, Weingardt K, and Frayne S. Sexual assault and substance use in male Veterans receiving a brief alcohol intervention. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs September 2011;72(5):693-700.
This study was funded by HSR&D through a Career Development Award to Dr. Cucciare. Authors are part of HSR&D’s Center for Health Care Evaluation in Palo Alto, CA.