The State of Substance Abuse in the Military


Sober Recovery Expert Author

When ex-army man Frank Greenagel, Jr. made the news in October 2014 that he would be going back to the military to fight substance abuse, many may have been surprised. However, those familiar with substance abuse statistics understand the dire situations that can cause military members to begin coping via substances. Many members of the American army, their families and veterans are victims of substance abuse such as alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse.

Post-War Alcoholism

The problem of alcohol abuse comes into focus once you consider the army men who returned home from Iraq. The army underwent a routine screening in 2002 and revealed that 27 percent of soldiers needed treatment for alcoholism after service. With this realization, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggested that soldiers be screened consistently so that cases of alcohol abuse in the service can decrease.

The State of Substance Abuse in the Military

However, according to a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), 20 percent of military men in active duty surveyed in 2008 reported that they had been binge drinking every week in the past 30 days. For those with high combat exposure, the statistics were even higher at 27 percent.

Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse has been another case of concern for the government and other military stakeholders. In the same IOM study, 11 percent of service members had reported engaging in prescription drug abuse in 2008 — a significant jump when compared to only two percent in 2002. Data derived from NIDA in 2011 indicate that the abuse of prescription drugs in the military almost tripled in the span of six years.

When the Department of Defense (DOD) conducted a study comparing the misuse of prescription drugs in the military and the civilian population, the staggering results depicted a 7.3 percent difference: 11.7 percent in the military and 4.4 percent in the civilian population.

Tobacco Use

Tobacco abuse has also remained a big problem in the military. Tobacco is a huge impediment to proper functioning of the military because it impairs readiness in the short-term and may cause premature death in the long-term. For a long time, the U.S. Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy and Army have tried to have a tobacco-free force, but to no avail.

The problem with substance abuse among soldiers is that most of them tend to hide the problem. The misuse is eventually manifested in domestic violence, road accidents or even suicides. Perhaps the stigma associated with mental problems and substance abuse is to blame. The DOD has made commendable efforts in enlightening people about these issues with a view to reducing stigma. It has created rehabilitation facilities that cater to the needs of victims. Other organizations outside the military are also encouraged to find ways of helping families and veterans struggling with the effects of substance abuse in the military.

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