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Substance Abuse In The Armed Forces

John Schaffer, LPCC

Medically reviewed by

John Schaffer, LPCC

April 5, 2019

On the classic TV show M*A*S*H, the characters are shown trying to drown out the horrors of war with alcohol; sometimes to a laugh track when Hawkeye’s homemade still was involved. Those in today’s armed forces face similar horrors, but in real life, there aren’t any laugh tracks and the penalties for indulging in more than a little drink can be harsh.

Why Is There A Problem?

Those who enlist in the armed forces lead a life full of very specific stressors, and they live with others who have the same lifestyle. Being away from their homes and families for long periods of time can contribute to this, and though technology provides people with more ways to communicate across long distances than ever before, it’s not the same as being with your loved ones. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the job itself can be a huge factor–those with multiple deployments and combat exposure are the most likely to develop alcohol problems or engage in binge drinking. They are also more prone to abuse prescription drugs, a growing problem in the armed forces. In fact, in 2008, 11 percent of enlisted personnel reported misusing prescription drugs.

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Why Prescription Drugs?

In a word—availability. Opioid pain medications are readily available because of the type of work the military does. Injuries sustained in combat or in heavy lifting are commonplace. Misusing medications is easy to do, and abuse is not always as obvious as most recreational drugs. The penalty for misuse, however, is high. If caught abusing any substance, an enlisted person can face possible dishonorable discharge. Someone high or drunk cannot always respond as fast or as well as a person not impaired, and costly mistakes can be made and lives could be put at risk. Unfortunately, the harsh penalties seem to be making people sneakier. The number of addicted personnel is rising, despite the consequences.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Other Veteran Factors

Due to concerns over these rising numbers, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently did an investigation in the armed forces. Their conclusions identified a number of barriers that limits access to substance abuse care, such as lack of availability, stigma, fear of negative consequences, and lack of confidential services. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, also affects many veterans and often leads to self-medication involving alcohol or prescription drugs. PTSD is, in fact, classified as a mental disorder, and according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, mental and substance abuse disorders were responsible for more hospitalizations among enlisted personnel in 2009 than any other cause. And these are people who often risk themselves for a living!

We Can Help

Luckily, assistance is available for those in the armed services suffering from addiction. Our trained advisers can get you or your loved one through the stigma of asking for help, and can guide you to a recovery center that understands your needs. Contact us today, and let us help make your life in or out of the armed services a smoother one.

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