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Drug and Alcohol Misuse in the Military

People in the military use drugs and alcohol for the same reasons that other people do. Drugs and alcohol can make you feel good for a short time. But the military lifestyle may also include other factors that can affect alcohol and drug use, such as:

  • The stress of knowing you may be involved in an armed conflict or being in an armed conflict

  • The stress of being separated from your spouse and family

  • Long periods of boredom on a base or in a war setting

  • A history of accepted risky alcohol use

People in the military use the same drugs as people who are not in the armed services. These drugs include marijuana, cocaine, inhalants, and methamphetamine. The rate of binge drinking is high. Binge drinking is having 5 or more drinks at one time for men and 4 or more drinks at one time for women. About one-half of people in the military binge drink at least once per month. This is similar to how much U.S. college students binge drink.

Why are drug and alcohol problems a concern?

Drug and alcohol problems (misuse) are a concern in the military for the same reasons they are a concern in the civilian population. They can harm judgment, decision-making, problem-solving, learning, and memory. They can lead to health problems and harm you and your loved ones. They can lead to legal and money problems.

In the military, drug and alcohol problems may also:

  • Interfere with military readiness. The personal and family problems that substance abuse can cause may make you less ready to meet your military duties.

  • Harm how well you do your job. If you are high or hung over on the job, you cannot function as well and you may be a danger to your unit and others.

  • Make it harder to maintain military discipline.

Drug and alcohol problems affect everyone in your unit. Your supervisor and others may be taken away from other duties to help you. Others may have to cover for you, which can take away from their military readiness.

Your behavior can make a difference in how well your unit deals with readiness, logistics, and training. Drug and alcohol problems can put your life and others' lives at risk.

Treatment of drug and alcohol problems

Treatment for alcohol or drug problems in the military is the same as for other adults. Detoxification, medicine, counseling, therapy, and 12-step programs all may be helpful.

All branches of the military have drug and alcohol treatment programs. They provide drug information, treatment, testing, and prevention. Active-duty members of the military may enter a program in several ways:

  • You can ask for help with your drug and alcohol use if you think it’s unhealthy.

  • Your commanding officer refers you for evaluation if a problem is suspected.

  • You have a positive drug or alcohol test.

  • A doctor or other healthcare provider refers you for evaluation if a drug or alcohol misuse problem is suspected.

  • You get in trouble with the law, and drug or alcohol use is part of the reason.

Veterans and drug and alcohol problems

Veterans may struggle with drug and alcohol problems. They may have started using drugs or alcohol in the service or developed a problem later in life. Drug and alcohol problems in Veterans may be linked with conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Veterans Administration can help you. Contact your local facility or see

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 9/1/2019
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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