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Addiction Treatment In The Military: Air Force Drug And Alcohol Rehab Programs

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 20, 2019

Many members of the military may find themselves addicted to drugs or alcohol in order to deal with the enormous amount of stress they are under. Fortunately, there are several treatment programs dedicated to the rehabilitation of the members of the Air Force.

Military members are widely revered due to their selfless service and dedication to the safety and protection of both United States land and U.S. civilians.

Despite the great respect that automatically aligns itself with being in a branch of military, the susceptibility for military personnel to become addicted to drugs or alcohol is still present.

In fact, one might argue that the potential for inappropriate drug or alcohol use could be more of a temptation for these members, simply due to increased pressures to perform well within the strict guidelines of military conduct. Other stressors include:

  • Rigorous activity
  • Demanding schedule
  • Deployment or potential for deployment
  • Combat exposure

If you know that you or another member of the Air Force may be struggling with dependence on a drug or alcohol, then the following information can be helpful in providing a path to freedom from the oppression of addiction.

Perspective On Substance Abuse

The Air Force Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) and the Demand Reduction (DR) programs are established in order to implement:

  • Substance Abuse (SA) prevention
  • SA education
  • Urinalysis testing
  • SA treatment

Each Air Force base has extensive policy measures which outline how to adequately handle cases of SA. Starting with prevention measures, members of the Air Force are educated on definitions of inappropriate drug or alcohol use.

In accordance with core values of the Air Force, the policy gives priority to strategies for preventing dependency on a drug or alcohol.

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Drug Abuse Policy

Air Force members are expected to adhere to strict rules related to their behavior–both in public and private sectors. Because of this, all Air Force members will be held accountable for any unacceptable actions.

Although all members of the Air Force will be given the opportunity to complete a rehabilitation program and/or receive counseling for drug or alcohol dependency, some may need to be held legally responsible.

Extreme violations of the SA policy could include discharge. However, protection can be extended to personnel who choose to come forward voluntarily about a SA problem (more information on this will be outlined later in this article).

Prohibited Drugs

Drugs that are strictly prohibited according to Air Force policy include the wrongful, illegal, or illicit use of:

  • Prescription drugs not prescribed to oneself or those used in a manner not in alignment with directions given by the physicians
  • Controlled substances
  • Illegal substances
  • Inhalants
  • Inappropriate use of over-the-counter products or medications
  • Anabolic steroids
  • Hemp seed oil due to detectable levels of THC
  • Possession, sale, or use of drug paraphernalia


The use of alcohol is less strictly monitored in the Air Force, but the potential for excessive use is taken seriously. The detrimental effects of alcoholism on both the person who drinks and his or her friends or family is also understood by military personnel.

It is true that the Air Force focuses on prevention of inappropriate drug and alcohol use, but it seems as if the potential for drinking too much alcohol could be more probable in the military than the use of other substances. Why?

Many people drink recreationally and socially, including those in the military. Air Force policy generally regards drinking as okay as long as it doesn’t get in the way of general conduct or performance. This would mean that a person could attempt to hide an alcohol problem more easily than the abuse of another substance.

With this said, the AFI 31-204, Air Force Motor Vehicle Traffic Supervision, applies to everyone with military installation driving privileges. This department specializes in establishing court-hearing procedures, convictions, and/or appropriate punishments for members in violation of intoxicated driving policies.

If an Air Force personnel’s blood alcohol level is over the legal limit of .08, then a driving suspension privilege of one year will be implemented for the first offense. Future offenses could result in more serious punishments, criminal charges, or even discharge.

Counseling And Treatment

Due to the degree of success of the prevention methods, drug use in the military is significantly less common among military personnel than the general U.S. population. However, addiction still occurs, and is addressed very seriously.

No matter the situation, every Air Force member who is struggling with addiction is provided education and treatment. The primary goal is to return a person dealing with a substance abuse problem back to unrestricted duty status or to help them successfully transition back into civilian life.

Treatment Options

After being assessed, if a person is diagnosed with a substance abuse problem, care is given to him or her according to criteria developed by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Air Force philosophy aims to integrate personnel into the least restrictive treatment plan possible, depending on specific needs.

Lengths of stay in a drug treatment program can vary, as can the setting in which a person will receive treatment. Examples of treatment options include:

No matter the type of treatment or its duration, each rehabilitation is customized in order to meet the specific needs of the member.


In addition to providing top-notch treatment options for its members, the Air Force also wants to ensure that the recovery process is successful for a person freed from addiction. This includes the education and implementation of:

  • Strategies for abstinence from a substance
  • Coping skills
  • Establishing goals for a SA-free lifestyle
  • Individualized aftercare programs lasting between six months and one year
  • Open communication with commander and supervisors regarding recovery

Support Team

In order to ensure optimum success of its members during both the treatment and recovery process, the Air Force directs supervisors to stay in daily communication with members who have dealt with addiction.

As a member receives treatment, he or she will have a personalized treatment team (TT) providing ongoing encouragement, monitoring, and support. The Air Force believes that such support is vital in helping a member break free from the negative cycle of addiction.

In addition to this framework of support, families of personnel recovering from drug or alcohol abuse are welcome to attend counseling and other meetings. Family members are contacted and kept in-the-know so as to give them an opportunity for involvement during each step of the rehabilitation journey.

Signs And Symptoms Of Substance Abuse

Symptoms of drug abuse or drinking too much alcohol can be identified, and may include some of the following:

  • Deteriorating duty performance
  • Unexplained or frequent absences
  • Regular errors in judgment
  • Irresponsibility in actions
  • Increased drinking
  • Memory loss
  • Morning drinking
  • Frequent hangovers
  • Health problems
  • Violent or uncontrollable behavior
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • States of denial or dishonesty
  • Failed attempts to stop or cut down

Coming Forward About A Problem

If you are dealing with addiction and are in the Air Force, it is beneficial for you to voluntarily come forward. In fact, it is the best choice you could make in this scenario.

If an Air Force member admits that he or she might have a substance abuse problem, including dependency on alcohol, that person will be granted limited protection as long as he or she is willing to receive appropriate treatment. A potential problem can be addressed with a unit commander, first sergeant, substance abuse counselor, or military medical professional.

Seeking help and being honest is encouraged. However, this protection does not apply if a member has previously been in trouble for drug or alcohol use in the Air Force.

Taking Action

Everyone has a different story and is dealing with astronomical challenges when facing a problem with drug or alcohol use. No matter your situation, it is important to get help.

Making the right decision for your life in order to get clean and be free from the burden of substance abuse is essential. To find out more information about the treatment you can receive as an Air Force member, contact us at today.

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