Military personnel are generally more prone to addictions to prescription painkillers and alcohol. Military field medics use morphine products to alleviate pain from combat-related injuries and physicians continue that pain treatment with opiate-based painkillers, leading to a rapid onset of opiate addiction. Members of the military who experience less severe injuries or who are fortunate enough to avoid injuries altogether will resort to heavy alcohol consumption to sooth nerves that have been shattered by traumatic battle experiences.
Psychological problems, including post traumatic stress disorders and anxiety, often go untreated, which further drives military veterans to seek solace in drugs or alcohol. Suicide rates among active and retired members of the military have trended upward and for at least the past ten years, that rate has exceeded the suicide rate among the US civilian population. Drug use and addiction has been cited as a significant cause for this disparity.
Dealing with Addiction in the Military
The United States Department of Defense instituted a zero tolerance standard for drug use among military personnel in the early 1980’s. the net effect of that standard was to push drug use and the issues that caused that drug use even further into the background. More current research is addressing this issue in order to reverse the stigma that it had previously created.
To its credit, the Department of Defense has taken some positive steps to address these problems. In 2012, for example, the Department commissioned a study from the Institute of Medicine to determine different methods to address and stem the growth of alcoholism and drug addiction in the military. The Institute made several recommendations, including expanding insurance coverage for drug addiction rehab and recovery and increasing training for military medical personnel to better facilitate their abilities to recognize drug problems. Separate branches of the military have implemented their own standards to address and monitor drug problems, including limiting the duration of painkiller prescriptions and more closely monitoring medications when multiple prescriptions have been issued to the same individual.
Different aspects of military culture have historically pushed drug addiction and alcoholism into the background while simultaneously exposing military personnel to dangerous conditions that often catalyze drug and alcohol use. Research programs are attempting to change this culture, but that change will take time and continued effort. Until then, therapists and addiction counselors need to remain cognizant of the increased risks of drug and alcohol addiction that are faced by military personnel every day.
If you are an active or retired member of the military and you are concerned over your or a fellow soldier’s excessive reliance on drugs or alcohol, please call the counselors and therapists at the Last Resort Recovery Center (near Austin, Texas) at 512-360-3600 for more information and assistance on how we can help. Our services are confidential and will not jeopardize your military status.