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The role of unit cohesion and perceived resilience in substance use disorder

APA Citation:

Ward, R. N., Erickson, A. J., Carlson, K. J., & Yalch, M. M. (2023). The role of unit cohesion and perceived resilience in substance use disorder. Military Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/08995605.2023.2189861

Abstract Created by REACH:

Service members may be at risk for substance use disorder (SUD) for a variety of reasons, including military-related experiences and stressors. Using self-reported data from 21,449 Soldiers, this study investigated how Soldiers’ deployment stressors (e.g., combat experience), unit cohesion (i.e., mutual support and cooperation among members of a unit), and perceived resilience (e.g., ability to manage stress) were related to a probable diagnosis of SUD. Age, gender, and time since last deployment were also considered. Overall, Soldiers who reported more unit cohesion and perceived resilience had a lower risk of SUD, whereas Soldiers with more deployment stressors were at higher risk of SUD.


Substance use

Branch of Service:


Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Active duty service member
Guard/Reserve member


Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Cross sectional study
Secondary Analysis


Ward, Rachel N., Erickson, Alexander J., Carlson, Katie J., Yalch, Matthew M.


Soldiers have high rates of substance use disorders (SUD), often in the aftermath of stressors experienced during military deployments. There are several factors that protect against SUD. For example, individual factors like perceived resilience and group factors such as unit cohesion may make someone less likely to abuse substances. However, there is little research on the differential influence of these resilience factors on SUD over and above deployment stressors. In this study, we examined the relative effects of perceived resilience, unit cohesion, and deployment stressors on SUD in a sample of 21,449 active duty and reserve soldiers from the U.S. Army (primarily White and male, mean age = 28.66, SD = 7.41) using structural equation modeling. We found that unit cohesion (ß = −.17) and perceived resilience (ß = −.16) had negative effects on SUD over and above deployment stressors. The study findings clarify research on resilience to SUD and have implications for addressing substance use in the military, specifically regarding the importance of building unit cohesion.

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


Army, military, resilience, substance use disorder, Unit cohesion

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  July 2023

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