Profile of Addiction Military Service Members

Life in the military is, by necessity, a regimented affair. There are rules to follow concerning almost every single part of life, from haircuts and clothing to wake times and daily activities. Personal freedom and choice are deeply restricted, as people in the service are expected to put the needs of the group above the needs of the self.

Not surprisingly, illicit drug use is remarkably low among people in the military.

In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 12 percent of civilians are monthly users of illicit drugs, while only 2.3 percent of military members can say the same.

When life is restricted, few people break free to abuse drugs, but that doesn’t mean substance abuse is foreign to those who are members of the military right now, or those who have been participants in the past. In fact, some say that there are many people in the military with addictions, but they might keep their woes hidden, due to concerns about reprisal.

military drug use rate



Important Information


military members painkillers

While people in active service might not admit to the use of illicit drugs, there are all sorts of substances they could abuse that are considered legal. In some cases, the use of those drugs is sanctioned by military leadership.

For example, prescription painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin are designed to ease distress caused by combat injuries, and they can sometimes assist military personnel with wounds caused by the physical demands of war. The Institute of Medicine suggests that military doctors wrote 3.8 million prescriptions for drugs like this in 2009 alone. That’s a staggering amount of medication, and it could be put to use in ways doctors didn’t expect.

Painkiller medications like this can boost signals of euphoria. Those feelings can make a sensation of pain seem less important, so it’s easier for people to go on with their daily tasks, even when they’ve been injured. Some people, however, become attached to that euphoria. They want it, even when they’re not in pain. These people can become addicted to painkillers, and that process could be happening to people in the military.

Painkillers aren’t the only legal substances that might be enticing to military members. Alcohol is another intoxicating substance that’s perfectly legal in many places, and it could be a target for military members. Alcohol can also be a problem for those who leave the military and attempt to integrate into civilian life.

Any or all of these things could entice veterans to drink a little more than they should, and that drinking pattern could blossom into an addiction in time. When that happens, it might be difficult for veterans to curb their drinking, even if they want to do so.

Thankfully, there are a number of resources available to help both active military members and veterans with addiction issues. Many of those resources are listed below. First, a collection of general resources about addiction appears. Next, information specific to military members is shown. Hopefully, that data will prompt you to reach out for addiction care.

As the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) points out, veterans have a variety of difficulties to overcome when they leave the service, including:
  • New family responsibilities
  • Memories of combat
  • Strained or new relationships with family members
  • Possible head injuries from combat


General Resources

American Psychiatric Association – Formal definition of addiction:

Members of the military are accustomed to dealing in concrete terms. They like to know what the rules are and how those in authority define an issue. This page can help. Here, the formal definition of addiction is outlined, along with the attributes typically shared by people who have addictions.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – What is drug treatment?

There are a great deal of misconceptions and misunderstandings swirling through the United States about how addiction care really works. This brochure is designed to dispel the myths and provide real information about what sorts of steps are common, and how people who enroll are typically treated.

SAMHSA – Information for families:

Military families might be worried about how addiction care works, and they might wonder what their role in the healing process should be. This brochure is made just for them. Here, all of their questions about addiction care are answered.

SAMHSA – Local treatment facilities:

Military members and veterans might look to military treatment facilities for care, but there are also treatment options available in the private sector. This interactive map helps interested people to find out more about the resources available in the places they live.

American Society of Addiction Medicine – Addiction specialist definition:

What kind of medical professional typically helps a veteran with an addiction? This page is meant to answer that question. Here, experts define what addiction specialists do, and how they train to help people recover from addiction.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – Introduction:

Support group meetings that follow a 12-step model are often included in addiction treatment programs. Many such meetings are held in military hospitals each and every day. This page provides information on how the AA movement got started and what meetings are designed to do.

AA – Meeting finder:

Military members who are interested in trying an AA meeting will benefit from this tool. They can use it to find the local AA office near them, and by contacting that office, they can find out about meetings held that day.

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) – Meeting finder:

People who take narcotics can always go to AA meetings, but those who want specialized help might benefit from NA meetings. They’re made just for narcotics abusers. This page allows people to search for local NA offices, and they can call those offices to find out about meetings in their area.


Resources for Military Personnel

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Alcohol screening:

This anonymous quiz contains a number of questions about drinking frequency and drinking opinions. Answering the questions honestly could help those wondering about their habits to understand whether or not they should get help.

VA – Summary of treatment programs:

The VA provides a great deal of help for military members with addictions. This page summarizes the types of treatments that are covered by VA benefits, along with the steps a person would take to get better after enrolling in a VA addiction program.

VA – Guide to mental health services:

This 20+ page brochure is designed to provide information about the variety of mental health services (including addiction services) that are provided through the VA. A number of VA resources are discussed in this brochure, and links to those resources makes data gathering easy.

VA – Hospital finder:

This tool provides information about all of the VA facilities that are available throughout the United States. People can use this tool to find out where to go, should they need help with an addiction or an addiction-related problem.

Veterans Crisis Line:

Some drugs of abuse can boost feelings of impulsivity, making addicted people more likely to do something drastic, like commit suicide or harm community members. This website is designed to help. Veterans and active-duty people can call, text, or chat with a professional at any time about addictions, mental health issues, or both. That help is available around the clock, every single day of the year.

Defense Centers of Excellence – Locating state resources:

While the VA provides a great deal of assistance to both active service personnel and veterans, states also pull together programs that can help. This page provides details about a variety of different programs administered through the states, along with phone numbers interested parties can use in order to get more information.

eBenefits – National Resource Directory:

This page provides a great deal of information on benefits and compensation that veterans and wounded service members might be eligible for. Since addictions can zap personal savings and impede a person’s ability to earn a good living, these resources could be vital for those in the early stages of recovery. Contacting some of these programs could put military members in touch with the funding they need so they can focus on healing.

Military OneSource – Employee assistance programs:

This website, which is funded by the Department of Defense, is designed to inform veterans and active service members about their benefits. This particular page provides links to employee assistance programs that can assist with all sorts of issues, from addiction to legal difficulties to relationships. It could be a good place to start a search for help.

Justice for Vets – Overview:

Addictions can, at times, prompt people to break the law, and the consequences for drug-related crimes can be very severe. The Justice for Vets program is designed to help. Veterans who enroll in this program can complete a series of steps as an alternative to jail time. This page outlines how the program works.

Justice for Vets – Treatment court locations:

Veterans who hope to participate in a drug-treatment court can use this map to find the authorities in the states they live.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) General Conference – AA brochure for military members:

This AA brochure provides an overview of how the 12-step program works, and why it might be a good option for people who have been in the military. Those who worry that AA won’t be right for them due to their military background might be reassured by the data in this booklet.

Sorting the Data

There’s a lot of information here, and that’s excellent news. It means that people with addictions have a number of resources that can help them as they learn how to pull together a life that’s not marred by substance abuse.

Asking for help could be the best thing you’ve ever done, and there are so many people who want to help you. We hope you’ll take advantage of that help today.


Addiction by Profession

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