Most Abused Drugs by the Military

By Cristina Utti

PTSD a growing condition that must be Addressed by Veterans Affairs.

Military personnel abuse substances for the same reasons as civilians. Although illicit drug use has remained at a consistent low for the past two decades, tobacco, heavy alcohol use, and prescription drug use among military are on the rise. Some common causes for substances abuse among military are:

Stress - The uncertainty and stress of deployment is a trigger and those with multiple deployments and combat exposure are at the greatest risk for developing substance abuse problems. They are also at greatest risk of developing behavioral health problems and taking prescribed medications. The stress of coping with day to day experiences in the field have led many soldiers to self medicate.

Alertness – Troops often has to function on very little sleep, and can come to rely on the use of stimulants to stay alert.

Inactivity – Military service often consists of long stretches of intense action followed by long periods of inactivity. The long periods with “nothing to do” can lead to gambling, drinking, smoking, or other substance abuse to fill the time.

A policy of zero drug tolerance was instituted on 1982. This policy continues today with random drug testing among soldiers, hence lower rates of illicit drug use. They face dishonorable discharge and possible prosecution for a positive drug test. “However, in spite of low levels of illicit drug use, abuse of prescription drugs is higher among service members than among civilians and is on the increase. In 2008, 11 percent of service members reported misusing prescription drugs, up 2 percent from 2002 and 4 percent from 2005. Mont prescription drugs misused by service members are opioid pain medications. Pain reliever prescriptions written by military physicians quadrupled between 2001 and 2009 to almost 3.8 million.” This trend continues to be on the rise.

The other top substances abused among military are:

Alcohol - The use of alcohol is widely accepted among soldiers and does not count against them in random drug tests. Almost half (47%) of service members reported binge drinking. These behaviors often continue after discharge, and can lead to alcohol abuse problems and alcoholism.

Marijuana – Marijuana is easy for soldiers to obtain and is probably the most commonly used drug in the military. It is often used to escape stressors of their environment.

Tobacco – The use of tobacco is higher among military personnel than among civilians.

Stimulants – Soldiers may turn to amphetamines to stay alert during long stretches of duty.

According to a new report, substance abuse among the military personnel and their families has reaches epic proportions and has become a public health crisis. Charles O’Brian of the University of Pennsylvania, who chaired the committee that wrote the report, stated, “We commend the steps that the Department of Defense and individual service branches have recently taken to improve prevention and care for substance use disorders, but the armed forces face many ongoing challenges. Better care for service members and their families is hampered by

inadequate prevention strategies, staffing shortages, lack of coverage for services that are proved to work, and stigma associated with these disorders. The report recommends solutions to address each of these concerns.”

Another concern for military personnel is suicide rates among soldiers are on the rise. Traditionally, the rates were lower than among civilians, but in 2004 began to rise, and in 2008 surpassed civilian suicide rate. One third of suicides are related to opiod prescription drug use. The other two-thirds are due to soldiers not receiving the help they need in combating alcohol and other drug abuse issues and/or mental health issues.

If you or someone you love have recently been discharged from the military, whether honorably or not, and you suspect they are not the same due to substance abuse problems, there is help out there. Great Oaks Recovery Center in Houston, Texas offers inpatient and outpatient programs for former soldiers dealing with post traumatic stress and substance abuse issues. You can learn about enrolling by visiting either the website or by calling 855-699-6257. Hopefully, America has learned something from the treatment of soldiers when they returned from Vietnam, and that is to respect our soldiers, always.

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