Substance Abuse in the Military Statistics

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Substance Abuse in the Military Statistics are astounding

The highly regulated and restrictive world of military life is proving to be a hotbed for substance abuse, in particular the abuse of prescription medications. While military personnel are reported to have a rather low percentage of illicit substance abuse cases in comparison to civilians, prescription medications are a different story. In this article, we will examine some substance abuse in the military statistics and discuss the reasons behind this abuse in the Department of Defense. According to the drug abuse website which reports on substance abuse in America, 11 percent of service members reported misusing prescription medications. This number is higher than the reported figure of civilians.

Why are military personnel at risk of prescription drug abuse?

Illicit drug use in quite low in the military, with reporting a figure of 2.3 percent past month users in 2008. Reasons cited is the strict framework within which the military operates with a zero tolerance when it comes to illicit drugs. The problem with prescription drug abuse, however, is two-fold; on one hand, they are often prescribed to treat service related injuries, while on the other hand, they are self -prescribed to cope with military life. Opiates are used by soldiers and veterans far more than civilians, and this is due to military training and combat injuries. According to the renowned website, people who are prescribed opiates are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin. Also, veterans and alcohol abuse are all too common.

Once prescribed a course of opiates for pain relief, it is extremely difficult to not become dependent on them. Their addictive qualities are incredibly strong, and therefore they are not generally prescribed in everyday life. However, due to the nature of some injuries in the military, doctors have no other choice.

Likewise, the relative ease of obtaining opiates in the military lead to some personnel self-medicating. Derived from the poppy seed, and from the same family as heroin, opiates provide the user with feelings of euphoria. For those who have suffered trauma or PTSD within the military may find these drugs to be very helpful for their psychological issues. Unfortunately, addiction to such substances undoubtedly take a very sinister turn, and escaping the clutches of such addiction can be extremely difficult. Often, it is hard to find help in the military due to fear over confidentiality or expulsion, so addicts harbour their secret dependency.

Prescription drug use is not the only highly cited substance abuse in the military. According to, a staggering 47% of service people in 2008 reported binge drinking in the month preceding. Again, some explanation around this high level of binge drinking was attributed to pain and stress relief, and as a type of anti-depressant for the user. The widely recognised inability to receive confidential help within the military appears to have led many people to a place of secrecy. This has only resulted in deepening of addiction, severe mental health issues and even death. According to the New York Times, medications were involved in one-third of the record number of suicides (162) by active duty soldiers in 2009. A further 100 soldiers died in the three years preceding by mixing prescription drugs and overdosing as a result.

The substance abuse in the military statistics are very startling and bring to the fore the issues are service personnel are facing. If you or a family member are facing substance abuse problems in the military, please know that there is help available. We can stir you in the right direction towards achieving a drug free life. If you’re struggling with drug addiction military related reason, you can get the help you need. We have a comprehensive directory of service providers, all with the skills and knowledge to help you heal.