Addiction to Drugs and Alcohol in the Military Guide

Addicted and in the Military: A Guide for those Serving our Country

Despite popular belief, alcohol and drug use in the military remain unacceptably high. The use of both of these types of substances can have a devastating impact on force readiness and psychological fitness. Unfortunately, many enlisted members fall victim to the comfort of these substances. Alcohol and drugs trigger a cascade of chemical reactions in the body that reduce stress and fatigue. They also cause a rush of euphoric emotions.

Many active-duty service members carry their addictions home with them. The stigma of having an addiction, as well as potential legal consequences, prevents many from seeking the help they need until it’s too late.

Substance Abuse in the Military Statistics

There are many faces to addiction, and addiction does not discriminate. Military personnel are not immune to the effects of substance abuse. In fact, they may be even more susceptible. In 2008:


47% of active duty military personnel reported binge drinking


11% of active duty military personnel reported misusing prescription drugs


2.3% of active duty military personnel reported using illicit drugs

These numbers have since skyrocketed. Alcohol and drug use has continued to increase over the years, as both substances become more accessible. The most misused prescription drugs are opioid painkillers. Prescription drug addictions can be just as deadly and problematic as illicit drug addictions.

Military Addiction Guide

Common Causes of Substance Abuse in the Military

Serving our country is stressful. In fact, the position of enlisted military personnel and military general ranked as the 2nd and 3rd most stressful jobs of 2015. There are many factors of active duty that may drive enlisted members to alcohol or drug use. Common reasons include:

  • The stress of being in an armed conflict and understanding the associated dangers
  • The stress of being apart from loved ones, especially spouses and children
  • The burden of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression
  • The boredom of having nothing to do for long periods of time while on the base
  • The pressure from other enlisted members and military culture

Alcohol tends to be easily accessible on military bases all over the world. In addition, military personnel use the same types of drugs as civilians.

Drug abuse or alcohol abuse usually stems from self-medication. Many enlisted members self-diagnose their symptoms, and find an escape in drugs or alcohol. Many feel embarrassed or even ashamed to admit to their condition.

PTSD affects more soldiers than what most people guess. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has guessed that nearly 31% of Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD. 11% of soldiers who fought in Afghanistan battle the same illness.

War is never pretty. Many enlisted soldiers have seen horrific events unfold before their eyes. Accidents, injuries, terrorism, death of a loved one or natural disasters can all trigger PTSD. To cope, many turn to drugs and alcohol. There's a huge correlation between the two. In fact, over 2 out of 10 veterans, who have PTSD, struggle with substance abuse.

Signs and symptoms of PTSD

Knowing when to get help for PTSD instead of relying on drugs and alcohol is key. By treating PTSD at its roots, addiction issues are less likely to arise. Common signs and symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Depression
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Feeling detached
  • Feeling on edge
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Sleeplessness or insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts

Those struggling with both PTSD and a substance abuse should seek a rehab program that targets both emotional and mental burdens as well. Most experts recommend seeking a treatment program that incorporates mindfulness-based relapse prevention, group counseling or individual counseling.

While addiction can affect anyone, some members are more susceptible than others. For example, men are more likely to both abuse and become addicted to alcohol than women. Members with multiple deployments and combat exposure are most at risk of developing an addiction. They are also more likely to:

  • Engage in heavy drinking or binge drinking
  • Develop depression, PTSD or suicidal thoughts
  • Use drugs to deal with depression and PTSD
  • Be prescribed prescription opioids or behavioral health medication
  • Smoke or relapse to smoking, which can avalanche into drug or alcohol use

Those who are more susceptible should be aware of their increased risk. These individuals should be checked on more frequently by supervisors and commanding officers. By recognizing signs of distress, affected soldiers are less likely to seek outlets to channel their depression, anxiety and frustration.

Commonly Abused Drugs for Military Personnel

Military personnel are not privy to special drugs. They use the same types of drugs as civilians, and need the same type of rehab when seeking sobriety. Common types of substances abused by enlisted members include:

  • Alcohol, which is often used for dealing with anxiety and depression
  • Amphetamines, which are often used to treat fatigue and Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Cocaine, which is often used for combating depression and fatigue
  • Marijuana , which is often used for combating depression and anxiety
  • Opioid drugs, which is for treating pain and depression

Finding illicit drugs off-base can be difficult. Many enlisted members resort to relying on prescription drugs. The prescription drugs are fairly easy to get from the physicians.

Abusing drugs or alcohol in the military is irresponsible. In addition to the legal consequences, being under the influence prevents military personnel from:

  • Using their best judgment
  • Making quick decisions
  • Solving problems effectively and efficiently
  • Learning at maximum mental capacity
  • Having the best possible memory

If members cannot function, they are a danger to not only yourself, but to others in their unit. They are also less prepared and ready to meet and fulfill their duties.

Military Drug Abuse Policies

The military has a zero tolerance approach to illicit drugs.

This policy was enforced in 1982. Drug offenders are vigorously prosecuted regardless of whether they:

  • Tested positive for illegal drugs like marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine or ecstasy
  • Refused to provide a urinalysis sample for testing when called upon
  • Had illegal drugs in their possession
  • Sold, distributed or trafficked illegal drugs

Those who have tested positive for illegal drugs will face an open investigation. Consequences include court-martial or other administrative action. The worst case scenario is termination. That will ultimately end one’s enlisted career.

The military uses random and command directed urinalysis testing to test for drugs. The onus is on the military to prove that active personnel both knowingly and consciously ingested an illegal substance. To combat this issue, more active personnel are resorting to misusing prescription drugs. This can be just as addictive and deadly.

When charged with drug abuse, the consequences can be quite dire. It’s best to hire an attorney to speak on your behalf. Good representation can make a world of a difference.

Military Alcohol Abuse Policies

Previously, all active-duty service members could drink. Unfortunately, drinking has quickly gotten out of hand.

To combat this, the military began to enforce strict alcohol policies, like:

  • Raising the legal drinking age for all military bases located in the U.S. to 21
  • Enforcing a legal drinking age of 18 in several European nations and other foreign countries
  • Limiting on-duty drinking standards for Marine Corps to only 0.01%
  • Setting a maximum alcohol reading of 0.05 for personnel in the Navy, Air Force or Army

Those who fail to stay within the legal drinking limits may be subject to a dishonorable discharge. This government dismissal will forever be on record. It can become a huge problem for those who wish to have a future career in the military. Often times, this dismissal will prevent affected individuals from holding another military position.

Understanding the Differences Between Substance Use, Abuse and Addiction

The problem with an addiction is that most people don't realize that they are addicted until it's too late. Most users convince themselves that they don't have an addiction problem. Learning how to identify the differences between substance use, abuse and addiction can come in handy.

Substance use is simply the usage of any substance, whether it be prescription drugs, illicit drugs, cigarettes or alcohol. It does not imply that there's a problem. For example, having a sip of wine or a smoke counts as substance use.

Substance abuse is a level up from substance use. The difference lies in regularity. There's an addition distinction to substance abuse. The substance must affect the brain and be capable of causing dependence. This narrows the category to just alcohol and drugs.

Substance dependence is synonymous with addiction. At this point, users will feel that they need to use a substance even if it causes harm to their life. Addictions are considered as chronic neurological diseases, and should be treated accordingly.

How do you know if you or a loved one is addicted? In addition to completing one of our addiction quizzes, there are also several signs to look for. They include:

  • Being helpless when it comes to abstaining from the substance
  • Having dysfunctional emotional reactions, like constant irritability
  • Having a lack of behavioral control and reacting impulsively
  • Denying the problem altogether and refusing to reconsider
  • Having a lack of empathy for those who are nearby
  • Being unable to recognize negative consequences for actions

People can develop an addiction to anything. Some people are addicted to food while others are addicted to gambling. The signs and symptoms are different for everyone. There isn't a one-size-fits-all test.

There are only symptoms that are more common than others. For example, those addicted to alcohol often drink alone, drink to relax and experience withdrawals when quitting.

The military recognizes the prevalence of substance abuse. They want to help enlisted members get back on the right track. To do this, more resources are becoming easily accessible to military personnel. There are government-funded rehab centers, and many insurance programs that cover the cost of private care. Making an effort to become sober is beneficial not only to addicted military personnel, but also to all others in their unit.

Active-duty personnel can gain access to rehab programs using several methods. They can:

  • Ask for help with substance abuse if they believe they are addicted and dependent
  • Have a commanding officer ask for an evaluation if he or she suspects there is a problem
  • Have a positive drug or alcohol test, either due to random or command directed urinalysis testing
  • Ask for an evaluation from a doctor or any other healthcare professional
  • Get in trouble with the law, with substance abuse being part of the problem

a problem is identified, it is then corrected through rehab.

On top of getting patients on the right track, rehab programs hope to achieve several additional goals. Specific objectives include:

  • Introducing patients to 12-step programs or finding them an alternative support group
  • Developing an individualized plan of treatment based on each patient's needs and admission assessments
  • Repairing family relationships through family counselling
  • Educating patients on the physical, emotional, mental and psychological effects of addictions
  • Building better habits to avoid the temptations of addictions to prevent relapses
  • Teaching relapse prevention skills and techniques to stay on the right track even in high-stress situations
  • Establishing a long-term plan for continual sobriety throughout the years

When choosing a rehab program, consider the amount of effort each program puts into personalizing individual plans.

The Various Types of Therapy

To achieve sobriety, a personalized treatment program is designed for each patient. There is a large array of therapies available. Common options include:

  • Replacement Therapy, which uses medications to curb cravings and limit the y of withdrawal symptoms
  • Individual Therapy, which involves one-on-one counseling to become more aware of oneself
  • Family Therapy, which involves repairing relationships with family members and friends
  • Group Therapy, which involves opening up to a group of people in similar situations for support
  • Nutritional Therapy, which involves eating healthy and making dietary changes
  • Meditation Therapy, which involves staying calm and becoming more aware
  • Music Therapy or Art Therapy, which involves getting creative and distracting oneself from cravings and the addiction in general

In most situations, several therapies are used in a plan for optimal efficacy. Patients can also choose from either inpatient or outpatient treatment programs. Inpatient programs offer more supervision and specialized care. Outpatient programs allow for more freedom and flexibility. Patients are not refined to the clinic, and can go about their daily activities.

When personalizing a treatment program, various factors need to be taken into consideration. The most important factors include the cost of the treatment, how it will be covered, as well as:

  • The type of treatment most effective for the type of drug abused
  • Whether the patient has strained relationships with those around them and require a support group
  • The credibility of the center and the program, as well as its success rates
  • The type of treatments that is most likely to offer a therapeutic experience
  • The type of relapse prevention programs offered, as well as their success rates

To get a better idea of what to expect and what to look for, take a look at this drug rehab guide. It offers detailed insight on the specifics involved with various therapies and treatments.

Dealing with an Addiction While in the Military

The stresses of active duty often leads to alcohol or drug abuse and dependence. Those who are affected should not feel embarrassed to seek help. With drug and alcohol use at an all-time high, it's vital to strip the stigma away from addiction. This way, active-duty military personnel will feel more comfortable seeking help.

If you're searching for a drug rehab program, Northpoint Washington is one of the best. We offer quality treatment that increases your chances of successfully becoming sober. We're determined to help you achieve your recovery goals, and free yourself from the grasps of addiction for good.

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