Substance Abuse in the Military

Lately, the military has seen rising rates of substance abuse, such as alcoholism and prescription drug abuse. While the Department of Defense follow a policy that includes intermittent, random drug testing. If service members fail the drug test, they face the possibility of dishonorable discharge and potential criminal prosecution.

Despite the zero tolerance for drug use policy in the Department of Defense, 11% of military personnel reported misusing prescription drugs, a percentage higher than civilians. Those with multiple deployments and combat exposure are at greatest risk of developing substance abuse problems; such as: smoking, binge drinking, and misusing prescribed behavioral health medications. Part of the reason for this falls on the larger amount of emotional stress, anxiety, and depression they develop as a result of their conditions. This translates to a greater availability of prescriptions at their disposal, thus providing a greater opportunity to misuse them.

In fact, pain reliever prescriptions written by military physicians quadrupled between 2001 and 2009, totaling to 3.8 million. In addition, half of military personnel reported binge drinking; a number drastically higher than the 35% reported in 1998. With a problem of this magnitude on the rise, the Department of Defense has started taking the steps to stop this trend from gaining speed.

According to Charles O’Brien of the University of Pennsylvania, “the military relies too much of hospitalization and in-patient rehabilitation, instead of outpatient treatment.” A recent report from the Institute of Medicine suggests integrating prevention and treatment efforts into primary healthcare, in order to attract more personnel into getting the help needed for substance abuse.

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