Individuals who serve in the military struggle with addiction more often than most people realize. Whether they’re alcoholics or drug addicts, the problem is quite serious.
Military personnel who can relate to this issue should not be afraid to reach out for help. It is vital that these individuals not only learn more about addiction, but also learn more about where they can get the help that they need. The aim of this resource guide is to provide some insight as to where addicted military personnel can get the help that they need.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an addiction is a brain disorder that lasts a long time. In recent years, experts have come to the realization that addiction is a disease. This makes it similar to other conditions, such as heart disease and cancer.
Being an addict doesn’t mean a person is weak. It also doesn’t mean that he or she lacks willpower. It can happen to anyone, regardless of his or her age, gender, occupation or a multitude of other factors. Once someone is addicted to a substance, the individual will need help in order to stop using.
Far too often, it’s assumed that members of the Armed Forces are immune to the threat of addiction. If anything, they’re actually more at risk. These individuals are more likely to become addicts because they endure long hours, dangerous situations, and serious stress. Frequent injuries add to the risk of addiction for members of the military.
Alcohol is often the go-to substance of choice for those in the Armed Forces. In most cases, this substance is easy for them to obtain regardless of where they are in the world. Of course, alcoholism begins by abusing alcohol.
Drinking can seem like a welcome distraction at the end of a long day, or on the weekend. For those who are in active combat, alcohol may help them to forget about their stress for a short time. It’s a very attractive drug for these reasons.
Research has shown that alcoholism is prevalent among United States servicemen. 43% of active duty soldiers admitted to binge drinking in one study. 67% of them were between the ages of 17 to 25.
What may begin as a way to de-stress often ends up being a way to self-medicate. Military personnel will eventually start using alcohol as a way to cope with symptoms of PTSD. Some will develop anxiety disorders or depression, and alcohol offers them an escape.
Drug use often occurs in the same way. For many in the military, it might begin innocently. They get hurt in active duty, and they’re prescribed pain pills to help with the pain. After taking them for quite some time, they become addicted to them. Eventually, they may turn to heroin once they can no longer refill their prescriptions.
In some cases, illicit drugs are the culprits. However, this isn’t quite as common as opioid drugs in the Armed Forces. The euphoric high that drugs have to offer is very attractive. Once again, it provides a way to escape, self-medicate and cope.
It goes without saying that substance abuse in the military is dangerous. Not only are these individuals harming their physical and mental health, but they’re also putting themselves at risk. When using drugs, they’re not prepared to meet their responsibilities. They are a danger to themselves, and to the others around them.
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Military personnel with addictions are being reported now more than ever. An addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that leads to compulsive substance seeking and use. This occurs even though there are harmful consequences for the person who is addicted. Initially, most people make the decision to use substances voluntarily, but over time, there are changes in the brain that result in the inability to control substance use.
The members of the United States Military are often seen as strong individuals that carry a heavy burden on their shoulders. They are honored and respected because of their many sacrifices. However, so many of them suffer from addictions, and yet, this is a subject that is often untouched or brushed off. The reality is that addictions can happen to anyone; even those who have sworn to protect their country's freedom at all costs. The question is, why does addiction occur for the members of the Military and for veterans?
In 2008, the Department of Defense conducted a survey regarding addiction among active Military personnel. The survey found that many service men and women demonstrated high levels of:
Not everyone who chooses to use substances will become addicted, and there are a lot of different risk factors to consider. Genes may play a part, as well as environment, peer pressure and outside factors such as stress.
According to the survey, as many as 3.9% of active Military personnel admitted to using illegal drugs, at least on occasion. One reason why this percentage is so low is most likely because of the zero tolerance policy the Department of Defense maintains. Even so, prescription drug use and alcohol use percentages were much higher. In 2008, 11% of active Military personnel reported that they have misused prescription drugs, and 47% of active Military personnel reported that they had participated in binge drinking.
It might be surprising to some to learn that this level of substance abuse in the U.S. Military is present. However, when you examine the reasons behind it, it's easy to see why turning to addiction might seem to be the easiest way to cope with the various stressors of Military life.
Those who are in the Military often turn to drugs and alcohol for the same reasons that civilians do, at least when they're just abusing them. Drugs an alcohol can make you feel really good. However, someone who is in the Military often faces a different set of circumstances that are much different from what civilians face, these circumstances are often what drive them to continually use substances.
When service men and women are first introduced to Military life, it doesn't take long to learn that alcohol and sometimes, even drugs are very much a part of the culture. Time off is often spent relaxing with friends over drinks at the bar. If someone has access to drugs, they are often shared with others as a way to unwind. Celebrations that the Military holds are often filled with alcoholic drinks and soldiers may find opportunities to use substances at various times during these celebrations.
When members of the Military face issues that involve medications, if addictive medications are prescribed - as they often are for various types of conditions - those medications can quickly become addictive if they are misused or if they're taken for too long a period of time.
Some of the other issues that may lead to Military personnel using drugs and alcohol might include:
Whenever any of these scenarios occur, quite often, Military soldiers feel a strong need to find a way to help themselves. As a result, they self-medicate over and over again without any regard for the consequences.
Regardless of the types of substances that are being used, it is important to differentiate between drug or alcohol abuse and drug or alcohol addiction. The two are definitely not the same. In most cases, addictions begin with abuse. There are some types of drugs that can lead to addiction with only one use. For example, those who use methamphetamine or cocaine have a risk of becoming addicted to those drugs after they've only used them one time. However, in general, addiction is a process that begins with abusing drugs or alcohol first.
Once someone begins abusing drugs or alcohol, he or she probably uses them periodically. Uses are probably spaced out, with as long as several weeks or even months between them. When this individual is abusing drugs or alcohol, there is no compulsion to use, whatsoever. He or she may enjoy the high that's experienced, but doesn't feel led to use again because it's not a need. Also, there are no withdrawal symptoms that are experienced when the substance abuse stops.
A substance addiction is very different from abuse, although it does begin with abuse, and there is usually a fine line between the two. When an addiction is present, the individual feels a need to use the drugs or a need to drink alcohol on a regular basis. That person experiences a physical or a mental yearning to use. Withdrawal symptoms are also usually in place, and when he or she hasn't used in a while, they can begin to occur.
As far as when addiction happens, it's very different to say. Someone can abuse drugs or alcohol sporadically for years and not become addicted. Another individual can abuse them on the same schedule and become addicted in a short period of time. Everyone is different as far as how their bodies respond. Even so, once addiction takes place, it generally comes as a surprise to most people. The tendency is to think that "this could never happen to me" until it happens to you.
When addictions do occur, the reason is because of the chemical changes that take place in the brain. Normally, the brain makes serotonin and dopamine all on its own. These are the chemicals that cause you to feel happy, and they're also responsible for your feelings of security. When something good happens to you, when you eat a meal, or when you see someone you haven't seen in a long time, you experience a surge of dopamine and serotonin.
Drugs and alcohol cause these surges as well, and over time, if substance abuse is allowed to continue, the brain loses track of how to produce the chemicals on its own. As a result, it begins to rely on the drugs and alcohol to produce them instead. When substances are not being used, the individual will begin to feel off, and withdrawal begins. This is why so many addicts need to use as soon as they wake up in the morning.
Of course, Military personnel are not immune to addiction, but this explains why it occurs.
It's very normal for members of the Military to have a difficult time getting help for an addiction once they have one. There are a couple of different reasons for this.
Even though there are services available to help them, Military men and women are taught that asking for help is a sign of weakness. They're taught to be strong, in control, and in charge of everything that's happening around them. For them, having to go to the VA for help with an addiction means that it was something they weren't strong enough to deal with on their own.
Another reason why service men and women often have a hard time getting help for addictions is because of pride. They may be too proud to get assistance, or they may lack pride in themselves, and therefore, not feel motivated enough to get the help they need to recover.
If you're a pilot, or you have a family member who is a pilot, it's possible that while you know that a drug or alcohol abuse problem exists, you're not completely sure whether or not it has crossed over into becoming an addiction. There are some signs you can look for that can help you determine that.
It should come as no surprise that so many members of the United States Military suffer from addiction. In fact, statistics show that 27% of those who have seen active combat regularly participate with heavy drinking. Close to 4% of those who are between the ages of 18 and 25 are addicted to illegal drugs. 11% of service members admit to using prescription drugs in a way that would constitute abuse of them.
Addiction is a very real problem among those in the Military. However, it's important to recognize the fact that many of those in active duty, and even those who are veterans don't recognize the fact that they have addictions. This may be because they are trained from the very beginning to remain in control at all times, and admitting that you have an addiction would mean that you lack the control you should have. It could also mean that they are choosing to remain in denial because they don't want to get help for one reason or another.
Even so, it's important to understand what addiction looks like in someone who is or who has served in one of the Armed Forces of the United States Military.
There are so many different types of substances that can be abused, but the U.S. Military is under a very unique set of circumstances. The Department of Defense maintains a zero tolerance policy when it comes to illegal drug abuse. This is why the percentage of service men and women who use illegal drugs is so low.
Among those in the Military with substance use disorders, what was found is that:
Regardless of what type of substance is being used, the fact remains that any type of substance use can lead to an addiction, even when it is only being used a few times. Clearly, this is a serious problem and it's one that needs to be dealt with as soon as possible for the protection of those in the U.S. Military who have addictions.
It's common for those who are addicted to alcohol and drugs like opiates to be in denial about their addictions. The same is true for Military personnel with addictions. As a matter of fact, it can sometimes be even truer for them.
Whether they're active service people, or they're veterans, having a drug or alcohol addiction is dangerous, and it's important to know the signs of addiction to opiates and other substances. These include:
Someone may be an addict without showing all of the above signs and symptoms. Sometimes only a few of them are clearly indicated, which may mean that the addiction is still fairly new. However, if more than one or two of these signs are present, that is a very clear indicator that an addiction may be present, and professional help through a drug or alcohol rehab should be sought out immediately.
For active service men and women, a drug or alcohol addiction can have a profound effect on their ability to serve in the Military. Addictions that are discovered by those in charge can be required to get immediate treatment, and this can result in being required to take leave in order to get the right type of treatment. It can even result in discharge from the service in some, extreme cases.
For those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol in the Military, continuing to use on a regular basis can affect them greatly in their day to day lives. Their personal relationships may become strained, they may be unable to fulfill their duties, or they may be called to act quickly, and find themselves unable to do so. Active members of the Military carry such a large amount of responsibility on their shoulders, and in war situations, it's important to be able to respond fast when there is an emergency. Even though the belief may be there that the individual is not impaired, those on the outside can tell that that's not the case at all.
Those who are members of the Military are at a very high risk for addiction. There are so many factors that make them much more susceptible to it than civilians, and this is proven by statistics that indicate higher addiction rates among this particular group of people.
Many members of the Military have been diagnosed with PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This puts them at serious risk for becoming addicted to substances. PTSD can occur among those who have seen active combat for a number of reasons. Perhaps they saw someone they knew who was killed, or maybe the trauma of having to fire their weapons was too much for them. PTSD is very real, and it affects a growing number of active service members each year.
Stress in the Military is common. Military members also frequently have to cope with the stress of living away from their friends and families. The demands on them are many, and they often tax their bodies to the breaking point each and every day. Many of them also suffer from anxiety and depression, and there is a definite connection between both depression and anxiety and addiction.
Military addiction statistics are actually quite surprising. The members of the United States Military are some of the most respected individuals in the country. Many of them have gone to war to defend the country they love, or to come alongside our allies in battles. It is becomes of them that we are able to enjoy the freedom we enjoy in the U.S., and so it is important to give honor where honor is due.
We do our Military and ourselves a disservice when we neglect to notice the issues that this particular group of people struggle with in regards to addiction. For many of them, addiction has become a way of life, whether they are veterans who have already served their time, or they are serving active duty currently around the world. Most of us will never have to encounter the struggles that members of the Military face on a daily basis, and so it can be difficult to understand their need for help with addiction, or that addiction would even be such a serious problem for them.
Perhaps you are a member of our nation's Military, or you were at one time, and you're fighting a different battle against addiction. It might be something that's well known among the people who see you every day, or it may be a deep, hidden secret that you'd rather no one else knew about. Either way, please know that you're not alone, and you certainly don't have to continue to wage this particular war on your own.
The members of our Military actually suffer from addictions at a much greater rate than civilians do, and when you take a look at the statistics and reasons behind that, it's easy to see why.
There is an estimated 23.4 million veterans in the United States. As far as active military service members, there are 2.2 million of them currently, and about 3.1 million members of their immediate family. A growing number of these individuals is turning to some type of drug as a way to ease the physical and emotional pain they feel on a daily basis. In fact, in 2008, the Department of Defense found that:
It's clear that there is a major problem with prescription drug abuse and addiction over illegal drug addiction in the Military. This is possibly due to the fact that prescription medications are much more available to them, and the increasing amount of prescriptions is a sure sign that addiction is very likely to occur. Between 2001 and 2009, the number of prescriptions for pain relievers written by Military doctors actually quadrupled. In 2009, there were close to 3.8 million of them written.
Even though there were most likely very good reasons for so many prescriptions because of the many combat-related injuries and body strains that were experienced from lifting and carrying heavy equipment, one fact still remains. It is fair to question whether or not there are simply too many prescriptions being written for these types of medications. It's clear that because of this, substance abuse within the Military was bound to occur, and as long as nothing changes, it will continue to increase.
Like prescription drugs, alcohol use in the Military is also increasing among both men and women when compared to civilians. The statistics tell us that:
In 2008, close to half of all active duty service members reported having participated in binge drinking. This was up from 35% just ten years prior.
In 2008, 20% of Military personnel reported that they had participated in binge drinking every week during the last month.
During this same year, 27% of those who had been in high combat reported binge drinking every week during the last month.
Clearly, alcoholism among veterans may be an even more serious problem than addictions to illegal drugs and prescription drugs. Especially when you consider the fact that almost 13% of the troops who returned from Afghanistan and Iraq between 2006 and 2008 needed to be referred for alcohol treatment after their post-deployment health assessments were completed. That is a significant number of deployed forces who came back to struggle with alcoholism.
Traditionally, it was reported that suicide rates among those in the Military were actually much lower than suicide rates among civilians. However, beginning in 2004, this began to change. During that year, the suicide rate in the United States Army started to increase, and in 2008, it surpassed the civilian suicide rate. For many of these suicides substance abuse is definitely a factor.
In 2010, it was discovered that 29% of the suicides that occurred among active Army personnel involved either alcohol or drug use. In 2009, prescription drugs were a factor in close to 1/3 of them.
It has been known for a long time that there is a link between substance abuse and suicide. Not only is suicide a leading cause of death in young adults, but about 90% of everyone who commits suicide has met the diagnostic criteria for one or more psychiatric conditions. In one study regarding the risk for suicide among addicts, out of 169 men who had addictions, 90 of them had attempted suicide. Out of 31 women who had addictions, 10 of them had attempted suicide.
There are a number of reasons for the climbing rate of addiction among Military personnel. One of the biggest issues they face is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. PTSD can occur for a number of different reasons, but it is very common in members of the Military who have seen active combat.
The symptoms of PTSD include:
Perhaps you've experienced many of these symptoms as a veteran, but you've never really thought about the possibility that you might have PTSD. This is very common, and it's best to get an accurate diagnosis so that you know for sure.
Statistically, PTSD is not unusual at all among those who have served in the Military, but it's certainly more common those who have been in active duty. For those who do have PTSD, substance abuse disorders are also very likely. In fact:
It's easy to see how PTSD and substance abuse or addiction problems go hand in hand, but because they are usually linked to one another, it's vital for the individual to get the type of treatment that will treat both at the same time. This is known as dual diagnosis treatment, and it's been proven to be much more effective than treating the problems as separate conditions.
Of course, there are many other reasons for addictions among those in the Military as well. Many members of the Military never see combat battle, and yet there are those among this population of service men and women who also struggle with addiction. This could be for a number of different reasons, and for many of them, a return to civilian life only aids in making their circumstances much worse instead of making them better.
Some Military men and women return to civilian life after their service has been completed and find that the jobs they thought they would have when they returned are gone. Long absences from families often mean that service men and women find themselves facing divorces. Financial difficulties can plague families of those in the Military. As many as 13% of veterans are pushed toward drinking and using drugs because of these issues in their civilian lives.
There is a strong relationship between stress and addiction. In fact, it might one of the top contributors to it. Research has certainly shown the correlation between stress and addiction, and one study in particular found that those who experienced extremely stressful life events often had poor coping strategies to counteract them. During this study of opium addicts, drugs played a considerable role in how they chose to cope. The same can be assumed for veterans who are facing issues in their everyday lives.
Life outside of the Military is very different for veterans, and the stress of the change in day to day interactions and activities can also lead to finding something to fill whatever void they feel is in place in their lives.
There are a lot of different barriers in place for Military personnel who need to get help for their addictions. It all begins with the start of entering the Military, when drinking alcohol is presented as a pastime. It is introduced early, and it quickly becomes a part of every social get together. Barbecues, going out with friends, playing video games, and unit functions all include alcohol. In fact, it's hard to find a time when alcohol is not a factor. It's a way to unwind after a long day, and it's almost treated as though it's a reward.
As the stress of Military life sets in, whether that's because of the everyday grind or because of battle, the physical pain begins for many soldiers. Pain pills, anxiety medications, and sometimes even medications to improve focus and concentration are prescribed for them, and they learn early to depend on them to get through the day. Over time, tolerance sets in, and they need to either drink more or take more drugs in order to get the same effects, and addiction sets in. Once that happens, the brain believes that the substances are needed for survival.
One of the biggest barriers veterans have to overcoming addiction is pride. When you have too much pride, it can keep you from admitting that you have a problem, and you're not likely to be willing to get help. If you don't have enough pride, you have very little self-worth, which means you're likely to not care enough about yourself to get help, even if you really do know you need it.
For many veterans and members of the Military, they've trained themselves that asking for any type of help for any reason is really a sign of weakness. This goes against everything they've been taught and trained to do. For those who are struggling with PTSD, mental illness or stress, it can be hard to admit that self-medication is no longer working and a different type of help is needed for a proper recovery.
The effects of deployment and stress that is related to trauma for Military families should not be ignored, and it's particularly difficult for wives and children. Studies show that cumulative lengths of deployments have a direct association to emotional difficulties within Military families, and there are significantly more diagnoses for mental health reasons among wives of those in the Army. Also, the children of deployed Military service men and women experience more school, family and peer related emotional issues when they are compared with those within civilian families.
The benefits that are afforded to Military families are very good, and they have access to the proper type of care. The problem is that many of them choose to not utilize it. One of the reasons for this may be because of a fear of discrimination. They may also have concerns about any harm that might potentially come to their spouses' careers if they choose to get help for behavioral issues. In the same way that many Military personnel refuse to access the services they need for their addictions, when addiction or mental health problems arise for families, they often decline to take advantage of them.
Military service people with addictions to drugs or alcohol are often very good at keeping their addictions a secret. The stress of servicing in the Armed Forces cannot be denied, nor should it be ignored. Because of the physical strain and the mental anguish that many members of the Military experience, it's really not a surprise that so many of them experience substance abuse disorders. Service men and women are frequently dealing with:
Fortunately, there are measures that are put into place that can help them, and if you or someone you love is an addicted Military member or veteran, it's so important for you to know what options you have for treatment. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs, or the VA, offers both long-term and short-term help for active Military and veterans who are a part of the Navy, Marines, Air Force and Army. It doesn't matter if you are addicted to illegal drugs, are struggling with alcoholism, or you've become addicted to prescription medications. Help is available for you so that you can recover from your addiction.
The issue is that many members of the U.S. Military are nervous about getting help, and this is actually true for their family members who may have addictions as well. Much is known about how Military addiction rates are increasing, and so, every effort is being made to provide you with the assistance you need. Putting off getting help for your addiction is only likely to result in serious problems for you, including medical issues, increased financial stress, and even problems with your position in the Military. It's best to seek help on your own so that you can get the assistance you really need as soon as possible.
Most people who present with addictions actually have more than one issue that needs to be treated. Several years ago, whenever someone had an addiction and a mental health condition such as PTSD, depression or anxiety, the addiction was treated separately. That is no longer the case for most professional drug and alcohol rehab centers. Today, dual diagnosis treatment is available, and most Military members have found that they need this option.
Dual diagnosis treatment focuses on treating the individual holistically, with the understanding that his or her addiction is generally caused by one or more other conditions. These can include, but are not limited to:
Dual diagnosis treatment allows addiction treatment professionals and mental health professionals to work together to provide the best possible outcome for the patient.
Maybe you've tried to stop using on your own in the past, but you weren't able to be successful. You may be wondering what the difference would be if you chose to go to drug and alcohol rehab for your addiction. Getting professional addiction treatment can make a world of difference because experts in the addiction field understand exactly what you're going through, and they have the knowledge and expertise to know how to treat you.
You'll find that several components will all come together to provide you with the help you need, and these might include:
Also, more people are successful with recovery when they have an excellent drug and alcohol rehab program, rather than trying to quit on their own.
The United States Marine Corps have a tough reputation, but that does not mean that they are exempt from addictions. Drug and alcohol addictions can happen to anyone, and the fact that this particular group of service men and women often struggle with the consequences of active combat means that they have emotional and physical wounds that make them very prone to addictions.
The VA is a great place to begin your recovery if you are a Marine with an addiction. These Substance Use Disorder centers are located all over the country, and they operate a substance use disorders program to help you. 12 Steps programs are also an important part of the recovery process for many Marines, and you'll likely be referred to one after you complete the first part of your drug or alcohol treatment.
Those who are a part of the United States Army, or who are Army veterans are also able to go to the VA to get help for their addictions. Usually, there are excellent benefits in place to cover the costs associated with treatment.
Talking with a VA physician is the best place to begin to get information about treatment. The VA can help with:
The Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) offers counseling and rehab services for those who are active members of the United States Army. These offices can be found on all Military bases, so they are very easy to access.
The VA has programs in place that are there to assist those in the United States Navy as well. The Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Program is available to active duty sailors, and it's also available for veterans. Those who need addiction treatment, or who have gotten into legal trouble because of their addictions will be referred to this program. NADAP is an excellent resource for those who need it because it serves to keep Navy service men and women out of the criminal justice system.
Even so, it is important to note that not all Navy personnel will be comfortable going to the VA when they have a substance abuse issue. Many like the idea of getting private treatment, and the benefits they have do allow for that.
For those who are in the United States Air Force, the Air Force Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program is in place. This is a program that often goes by the acronym ADAPT. Their goal is to educate service men and women about substance abuse issues as a way to put preventative measures in place. They offer urinalysis testing regularly, and they also provide substance abuse treatment for those who need it.
The Air Force maintains a very strict policy regarding drug use, whether those drugs are illegal or by prescription. Violating the rules can sometimes end in discharge from the service, even if help is sought voluntarily through the ADAPT program. Alcohol use is more widely accepted, but serious consequences can result when BAC levels are found to be at higher levels than the legal limit allows. For this reason, many members of the Air Force may prefer to get help for their addictions through a private drug and alcohol rehab facility instead.
The statistics for Military substance abuse and addiction are grim, and the number of those in the Armed Forces who have addictions appears to be increasing with each passing year. What we know is that:
Between 2002 and 2005, the abuse of prescription drugs doubled among Military personnel.
Between 2005 and 2008, prescription medication misuse tripled. The number of veterans who use marijuana is higher than the number of civilians who uses it. In 2003, 3.5% of veterans used marijuana compared to 3% of civilians.
Only .8% of veterans received treatment for drug and alcohol addictions. Just under 8% of veterans report the heavy use of alcohol on a regular basis.
Clearly, this is a problem that is not going to go away on its own, and help is available to assist Military personnel with getting the professional treatment they need.
It’s natural to feel like you have no way out if you’re an addicted member of the military. However, you need to know that there is a way out. You only have to want to make the decision to recover. The help you need is available to you.