Substance Use in the Military

Active duty military and retired soldiers face unique challenges and circumstances that average citizens can not relate to. While substance use disorders among veterans are frequently discussed, in relation to trauma and the trials of assimilating back into society, the substance use that is widespread among active-duty military personnel is often swept under the rug, yet a severely significant issue.

The military has a zero-tolerance policy for illicit drug use, and in fact drug tests members without notice. For this reason, it is often alcohol and prescription medications that are misused. Consumption of alcohol is widely accepted in the military and often used to unwind and cope with the stresses of the job. It is consumed in social settings or recreationally. However, disordered drinking, either binge-drinking, heavy drinking or frequent drinking, in the military is becoming increasingly prevalent, especially within the Marine Corps. Similarly, the misuse of prescription pills, predominantly opioid, in the military is comparable to the rate of misuse in the general population. The prescription

 usually stems from an injury relating to training, combat or back pain from regularly carrying heavy equipment.

There is no doubt that military service members experience an immense amount of psychological distress. Research has shown that substance use in the military is directly correlated to deployments and exposure to combat and military personnel with multiple deployments are at greater risk for developing a substance use disorder, due to continued and cumulative exposure. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety from deployments, for both active-duty military as well as veterans, are often the leading contributor to their substance use. Despite higher rates and the increased risk of substance use among military personnel, there is a low rate of seeking out or referral to treatment.