Military service and risk of subsequent drug use disorders among Swedish men

Alexis C. Edwards, Henrik Ohlsson, Peter B. Barr, Jan Sundquist, Kenneth S. Kendler, Kristina Sundquist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Environmental factors contribute substantially to risk for drug use disorders (DUD). The current study applies multiple methods to empirically test whether military service is associated with subsequent DUD, as previous findings are inconsistent. Methods: Longitudinal Swedish national registry data on a cohort of male conscripts born 1972–1987 (maximum N = 485,900) were used to test the association between military service and subsequent registration for DUD. Cox proportional hazard models were used in preliminary analyses, followed by three methods that enable causal inference: propensity score models, co-relative models, and instrumental variable analysis. Results: Across all methods, military service was causally associated with lower risk of DUD. Hazard ratios ranged from HR = 0.43 (95% confidence intervals [CI] 0.37; 0.50) in the instrumental variable analysis to 0.77 (0.75; 0.79) in the multivariate propensity score matching analysis. This effect diminished across time. In the model including a propensity score, HRs remained below 1 across the observation period, while confidence intervals included 1 after ~ 11 years in the co-relative analysis and after ~ 21 years in the instrumental variable analysis. Conclusions: In this cohort of Swedish men, complementary methods indicate that military service conferred substantial but time-limited protection against subsequent DUD. The observed effect could be due to reduced opportunity for substance use during service, social cohesion experienced during and after service, and/or socioeconomic advantages among veterans. Additional research is necessary to clarify these protective mechanisms and determine how other environmental contexts can provide similar benefits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1039-1048
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • Drug use disorder
  • Instrumental variable
  • Military service
  • Registry data


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