Veterans and Drug Abuse

Often with Veteran’s Day in November, our thoughts are turned to those valiant man and women who have served our country. These brave individuals have trained, sacrificed, endured and fought for us to maintain the freedoms we enjoy. In reflecting upon these great individuals, its tragic to note how many of them return from service and struggle with drug abuse. In fact, studies show that veterans who served between 2001 and later are struggling the most. Many of us might think that drug abuse is mostly associated with veterans who served in Vietnam due to the wide publication and hollywood enamor with that era. However, the percentage of veterans who have a drug abuse problem that served from 2001 to now is more than twice that of those serving in Vietnam.

A recent survey published by the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Health Service Association) provided the following useful chart below:



Serving in the military can be very demanding and perhaps this, combined with the trauma of combat, is why veterans struggle with drug abuse. The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicated that a large number- 1.5 million- of veterans aged 17 and older has a drug abuse problem within the last year.

Clearly, more measures to help veterans with drug abuse problems need to be enacted. The website http://www.samhsa.gov/veterans-military-families has many resources available. Awareness of family members and friends of veterans who fight drug abuse can also help to get these brave individuals the help they need and deserve.

drugsinmilitaryDrug abuse in the military

How serious is the problem of drug abuse in the military? For a couple of decades, drug use in the military seemed to be on the decline. But, recently, new research shows that the problem is climbing again. In fact, some research shows that while some individuals are entering the military to “shape up” and turn their lives around and “get clean”, many of these young people are bringing their drug habits with them into military service.

Recent reports cite statistics such as:

  • over 17,000 people have been discharged from the U.S. military due to drug abuse since 1999
  • The Navy has discharged more individuals (3,400) because of drug use during the time since 1999 than any of the other branches of the armed services
  • Since 1999, failed drug tests in the U.S. Air Force have increased by 82%, and in the U.S. Army by 37% as well

Drug abuse in the U.S. military can threaten our national security simply because being under the influence of drugs will lower the readiness of our troops. Drugs undermine military authority and the strict order that prevails in military society. And, most importantly, drugs damage human lives – in this case, the lives of the brave military men and women who risk their lives to fight for our freedoms.

As far as identifying which drugs are used most prevalently in the U.S. military, there are some drugs to which soldiers seem to drift toward more than others: marijuana, cocaine, and opiates. Marijuana is undoubtedly the most used drug in the military mostly because it is relatively easy for soldiers to obtain. Marijuana is often used to escape the stressors provided by the wartime environment temporarily. Cocaine and other stimulants are used by soldiers to stay alert throughout the course of long stretches of duty. However, the subsequent “crash” after using cocaine or other stimulants can be very dangerous since it leaves soldiers in a weakened state during what could be times of emergency. Further, opiates, such as Vicodin and OxyContin are becoming more widespread in the military because of the euphoric effects they have on individuals. Many soldiers will, in fact, have opiates shipped in from home, or brought over with incoming military personnel. Opiates can provide escape and self-medication against the horrors of war that soldiers regularly encounter.

The reasons for the increase use of drugs in the military are many. Because soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are constantly under fire from the enemy insurgents, coping with this strain on a day-to-day basis in the military field has forced many to turn to drugs as a means of self-medication and a coping mechanism. Also, although the “zero tolerance” policy has been in place in the military for several years, soldiers have greater access to drugs than ever before. Sadly, family members and friends sometimes ship the drugs overseas via courier, or soldiers returning to duty may bring them back from the U.S. as well. Another reason for drug abuse is the long periods of inactivity, which occur after the intense action. Long stretches of time where there is little to do can allow for experimentation with and or escape from the boredom by using drugs. Lastly, many soldier use the drugs to become more alert or aware during patrols or late night/nighttime duties.

Drug abuse in the military has several negative effects. Soldiers are risking their own personal safety with slowed reaction times and confusion, they are putting the lives of other soldiers in jeopardy by impairing their own judgment, and they are creating an environment which is not stable and controlled – completely opposite from the structured regimented atmosphere the military thrives on.




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