Military Substance Abuse Programs

Military Substance Abuse Programs

The unique lifestyle and culture of the military can push them towards substance addiction. Drug use in the military is not only limited to active-duty personnel but also veterans. Military life involves physical risks and mental stress. This is why they choose substances as a means of mental escape and release. However, the impact of substance use disorder can cause several other disorders.

Military substance abuse programs are working relentlessly to bring addicted military personnel back to a more normal way of life. These treatment programs are focused on preventive and curative methods of de-addiction.

Forms of Drug Use in the Military

According to Health Related Behaviors Survey (HRBS), the rate of drug abuse among active-duty personnel is 8.6% while one in every ten veterans has been reported of drug abuse. In fact, the numbers are based on self-reporting, so the actual rate of addiction is most likely significantly higher.

Here are some common types of addictions or drugs used in the military.

#1. Misuse of Prescribed Drugs 

Although the reported cases of prescribed drug abuse are less compared to other forms of substance abuse, it is still concerning to the Department of Defense. Among the misused prescribed drugs, the most common are opioid pain relievers and depressants.

The rate of abuse of opioid is higher among active-duty military members than veterans. This is because active-duty military personnel is more likely to have access to them from a prescription.

#2. Use of Banned Drugs

These drugs account for the majority of addiction among active-duty military personnel and retirees. The rate of addiction from the use of substances like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine are on the rise.

As the military is strict about substance misuse, especially banned drugs, the rate of overall addiction is lower among active-duty military personnel compared to veterans or the civilian population. However, military members that do test positive do face severe repercussions to include criminal charges and a dishonorable discharge.

#3. Smoking

Tobacco addiction is another common form of substance abuse in the military. Work stress and depression are the two main causes of nicotine addiction.

Fortunately, the numbers are decreasing every year among the active military population. Veteran military personnel are more likely to smoke compared to the civilian population. As a result, many suffer from coronary heart and lung diseases.

#4. Vaping

The use of e-cigarettes is on the rise in recent years. Several incidents where military members as well as non-military members have been injured by mishaps from vaping devices. These devices can cause severe burns to the user. 

Vaping has also been associated with higher levels of lung disease. As a result, the government has banned vaping devices on military installations. This has helped to reduce the rate of use by military personnel, but it is still an issue.

#5. Alcohol

This is the most common form of addiction among military personnel. In fact, the rate of alcohol addiction is higher in active military personnel than veterans. Alcohol is easily available to them on military installations at a cheaper price. 

Binge drinking is a common disorder because the active-duty culture encourages excessive drinking and because the majority of military personnel are young men.

Statistics on Drug Use in the Military

Drug use statistics in the military are very different from the civilian population. It mainly varies according to age groups, position, and mental health. Here is the statistical representation of drug use in the military that has been on the rise recently.

#1. Alcohol Misuse

According to a survey conducted in 2015, 30% of active-duty military members have engaged in binge drinking. Out of that, more than 5% are heavy drinkers. About one-third of them suffer from health disorders related to alcohol abuse.

#2. Banned Drugs

In a medical test conducted in 2015 on active-duty military personnel, only 1% was reported positive for banned drug addiction. The number was a bit higher for veterans most likely because active-duty personnel are randomly tested for illegal drugs regularly.

#3. Prescribed Drugs

Opioid painkillers are mostly prescribed to military personnel to relieve pain resulting from combat or the use of heavy artillery. In the period between 2001 and 2009, the number of prescriptions for painkillers increased four-fold in the military.

Risks Associated with Substance Abuse in the Military

Risk factors are higher for active-duty military personnel suffering from drug abuse. However, veterans are also at risk of developing addictions due to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other common conditions.

Many active-duty members in the military face mental and emotional challenges regularly. It can be the result of combat experiences, frequent deployments, or work-related injuries. Apart from that, they also deal with mental traumas like death, injuries, dangerous missions, etc. Addiction takes a toll on their overall physical and mental health affecting their performance and career growth.

For veterans in the military, life takes a sudden turn for them after retirement. They constantly struggle to adapt to civilian life after their service is complete. This often leads to mental stress which can drag them into substance addiction. Drug use in veterans can result in several health issues related to heart, lungs, and even psychological disorders.

Factors Leading to Drug Abuse in the Military

Substance use is often a result of the severe stress of one’s mental and emotional health. Military personnel face additional risks related to job responsibilities along with life and death decisions. These risk factors are more likely to lead military personnel to substance addictions. Here are some common factors leading to drug use in the military.

Stress Due to Deployment

Military personnel often deploy to combat zones that leave them physically and mentally drained. With little time away from work to maintain mental balance, they often seek escape in substance addictions. Repeated deployments also affect their mental state. Deaths, injuries, and other dangers can be a common part of everyday life, military personnel often seek control of drug addiction.

Psychological Stress

Living in harsh conditions and dangerous war zones affects mental health over a period of time. Depression, trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and brain injuries are common among active military members. This puts them at a higher risk of a substance addiction than the civilian population.

Military Culture

Drinking has a long tradition in military culture. So much so, that some active-duty military member doesn’t realize the addiction until they become heavy drinkers. Another reason may be alcohol is widely available at military installations at a discounted rate. Excessive drinking becomes a ritual for them to de-stress from work.

Injuries at Work

The job of military personnel involves physical risks both in and outside of combat. With the rise in the number of injuries, they get easier access to prescribed medicines like painkillers from under-trained medical staff. Many of these powerful painkillers are addictive.

Homesickness

Military personnel is away from their families and loved ones for months or even years. It is the nature of their work that cannot be changed. These situations often cause severe homesickness in them that leads to depression and stress. These situations make people more prone to substance addiction.

Treatment for Military Substance Addiction

The Department of Defense has a zero-tolerance policy for substance addiction. Once a military member is discovered to have a substance addiction, they will likely face disciplinary actions along with demotion. The Department of Defense does have substance abuse programs for self-reporting and medical detection. Here are some of the ways used in the military to detect, treat, and prevent drug addiction.

Random Testing

Military installations regularly conduct random drug tests by collecting urine samples. Members who test positive for substance use are punished and given mandatory counseling. In some cases, they are taken to treatment centers also.

The Department of Defense also allows personnel to self-identify for substance addiction. In these cases, punishment is usually much less severe or skipped altogether. This initiative is encouraged to help active-duty members who know they need to seek treatment and get the help they need to return to duty.

Personal Counseling

As depression and trauma are the predominant factors leading to substance misuse, counseling is a great way to heal. Counseling sessions can improve an addict’s behavior and mindset to break free from addiction.

Detox Sessions

Inpatient detox treatments are offered by the Department of Defense to military personnel with substance addiction. This method doesn’t detach them completely from work life like treatment centers. The duration of detox sessions depends on the member’s physical health condition.

Military Addiction Programs

These programs focus on a comprehensive method of treatment. They take care of the member’s mental health while offering curative and preventive therapies. These military programs not only help personnel to live a drug-free life but also encourage them to get back to the normal course of life.

The military substance use programs are available via the phone, through web portals, or even by text messages. These portals also provide resources for friends and family members who want to help.

Final Thoughts

No disciplinary actions or career opportunity is greater than your health or your life. If you suffer from substance use, self-reporting is the best way to return to duty. Detecting substance addiction at an early stage can be treated faster. There are several treatment options available to put you on the path to recovery. You can engage in helpful therapies, a personal recovery plan, along with continuum care.

We are thankful for all the active-duty military members who protect our country and all of the veterans who have served. If you suffer from addiction, we here to help. Contact us today. 

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MDDavid Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.