Military life takes a toll on millions of current and former service members in the U.S. Military-specific stressors like deployment, high-risk situations, and combat PTSD lead many veterans and active duty service members to turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with mental pain.
If you are a military member who struggles with substance abuse, you can seek help from a well-rounded treatment approach. Learn more about the close connection between military members and substance abuse and how the right recovery program that focuses on mental and physical healing can help you gain sobriety and take control of your life.
Substance Abuse Among Military Members
The prevalence of substance use disorder (SUD) is generally higher among active duty service members and veterans than the general public. Current and former military members may engage in binge drinking and alcohol use disorder, smoking cigarettes, and prescription medication misuse.
Alcohol abuse is the most common SUD among military members and the primary substance that members seek treatment for. A 2015 Health Related Behaviors Survey found that 30% of service members were binge drinkers.
The survey also found that 5.4% of all military personnel are heavy drinkers, defined as binge drinking each month on five or more occasions. Over one-third of all service members also met the hazardous drinking criteria, indicating possible substance use disorder—rates of drinking varied by service and pay but were higher among males than females.
The abuse of alcohol isn’t limited to active duty personnel. Heavy episodic drinking and alcohol use disorders are more common among veterans than civilians. Alcohol accounted for 65.4% of veteran admissions for treatment in non-VA facilities, and they were more likely to report alcohol as their primary SUD than non-veterans.
Smoking and tobacco use
While the number of service members smoking has decreased from 24% in 2011 to 13.9% by 2015, it continues to be a problem. 7.4% of military personnel report smoking daily, while 35.6% have tried using e-cigarettes. Others smoke cigars or use smokeless tobacco while enlisted.
Veterans also report higher tobacco use than non-veterans, with nearly 30% using cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, or cigars. Tobacco use can lead to the development of lung problems, high blood pressure, cancer, and premature death. This substance can be difficult to quit on your own, but smoking cessation programs are an effective solution.
Service members are often prescribed prescription painkillers like opioids when injured during training or deployment. Like civilians, they are at risk of developing a physical dependence or addiction to opioid pain medications.
The medication’s addictive nature paired with misuse or mental health struggles servicemen and women commonly face can lead to a SUD. 4.1% of active-duty personnel report misusing one or more medications, including the overuse of prescriptions.
Veterans are often prescribed opioid medications as part of their pain management. They may face lingering injuries from their service, requiring long-term use of pain relievers. This puts them at higher risk for misusing the medication or suffering an accidental overdose.
Recovery for Military Members
Recovery is possible for active and veteran military members. If you struggle with opioid addiction, alcohol use disorder, or smoking addiction, you can move toward sobriety with the right treatment program.
Unlike past approaches centered on treating just one area of addiction, a well-rounded recovery program can help you address your physical dependence and mental health issues at the root of your behavior. Right Path Addiction Treatment Center offers a holistic approach to recovery that uses three central tenets of recovery to help you get and stay sober for life.
Right Path’s treatment programs address your physical addiction with medication-assisted therapy (MAT). Our programs also offer mental health treatment through counseling and help you maintain sobriety by fostering a supportive community.
Address physical symptoms (MAT)
Opioid addiction creates a physical dependence on the substance of choice. Whether you struggle with illicit opioids like heroin or prescription drugs like Oxycodone or Morphine, it’s challenging to detox by yourself and overcome the cycle of addiction without treating your physical symptoms.
Getting treatment at a facility that uses MAT as part of opioid recovery can help you overcome this barrier. MAT helps prevent precipitated withdrawal, which is almost guaranteed to cause a relapse in most people who use opioids. It can also help you with urge coping by minimizing your body’s perceived need for the substance.
With MAT, these factors combine to help you overcome the physical struggles of recovery so you can focus on healing your mind.
Address mental health concerns (counseling)
An integral part of long-term recovery for military members is access to mental health treatment. Military personnel carry a high risk for mental health issues like depression, suicide, PTSD, and substance use disorder, which makes treating these mental health conditions vital to supporting sobriety.
When seeking alcohol or opioid recovery treatment, choose a facility that offers counseling alongside MAT. Group and individual counseling allow you to explore your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and process them in a healthy environment with a professional psychotherapist.
You can work with your therapist to identify how your addiction started and coping mechanisms you can use to get and stay sober.
Create a community of support
The right treatment program also helps you focus on building a community of support to maintain sobriety. This supportive group of fellow recoveries can provide you with healthy relationships that you can turn to when struggling with sobriety.
With the right resources, you always have a place to turn so that you don’t go back to using an addictive substance.
As a military member, you can obtain sobriety with a well-rounded approach to recovery. Find a treatment center that uses MAT and counseling to help you repair your mental health and address your physical addiction issues.
Native of Moldova, Dr. Zhitar is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine as well as Internal Medicine and completed his training at UPMC Shadyside, Pittsburgh, PA in 2000.