The studies of drug use and dependency among Vietnam veterans are some of the most important pieces of research undertaken in the drugs field. The results of these studies helped inform a new and deeper understanding of problem drug use and challenged medical, moral and ideological perspectives on drug use and problem drug use.
Lee Robins’ research and report to the US Government on this subject is the most commonly cited work; her papers contribute to the extensive research on this subject. Her research on 450 US soldiers use of drugs before, during and after service in Vietnam. This work led to Norman Zinberg’s own work on this subject (see drug, set and setting).
Robins used the results of urine testing of soldiers in Vietnam before their return and interviews on their return to the US and subsequently after 12 months which also involved a urine drug test.
The results were clear, soldiers regular use and dependency on opiates, usually heroin, in Vietnam was not continued on their return to the US and to civilian life. The very few exceptions to this were people who had used illicit drugs and specifically opiates in the US before joining the Army. This confounds notions of the ‘addictiveness’ of drugs (see addictive) as a driver for use and for ‘addiction’ and challenges the disease model of ‘addiction’ (see disease model; see addiction).
Interestingly, heroin use in Vietnam was closely related to having grown up in large US cities, and being less well educated by comparison with the rest of the sample and having a family history of drug use, crime and ‘delinquency’ (see adverse childhood experiences; see poverty).