The stressors of deployment and the unique features of military culture create risk factors for substance abuse, especially among active duty military personnel.
To make matters worse, zero-tolerance policies, lack of confidentiality, and mandatory random drug testing may discourage those who need addiction treatment from seeking it.
Substance Use And Military Service
Military service members use illicit substances at lower rates than the general population; however, binge drinking and alcohol abuse rates are significantly higher among military personnel.
A significant number of active-duty members will experience a substance use disorder. They may not seek treatment due to a lack of knowledge, stigma, or inaccessibility of quality treatment.
Factors that place military personnel at risk of alcohol abuse or drug use include young age, high demands in the line of service, and trauma, including military sexual trauma.
These mental health disorders may increase the risk of developing a dual diagnosis of substance abuse, especially when the service member returns to civilian life and loses the direct support of their peers.
Unique Challenges Faced By Military Personnel Living With Addiction
Military personnel living with addiction experience several barriers to substance use disorder care, including but not limited to limited access to treatment, stigma, and fear of negative consequences.
Deployment And Combat Experience
Active-duty service members returning from deployment are more likely to engage in drug abuse. Comorbid mental health issues may exacerbate these rates.
Heavy alcohol use was higher among service members who had been in combat and deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq since 9/11/2001 compared to those who had not been deployed or in combat.
Service members who deployed and experienced combat were also significantly more likely to report new heavy weekly drinking, binge drinking, or other alcohol abuse.
For each deployment, the odds of developing an alcohol use disorder increased by 14%.
Each additional year an service member spends deployed was associated with a 23% increased risk of problem drinking.
Stigma And Career Concerns
U.S. military culture values resiliency, teamwork, and self-reliance. In some cases, these values may create a stigma around getting help for a substance use disorder.
Military personnel may be concerned that seeking addiction treatment will hinder their effectiveness or limit their career.
Individuals may also be concerned with being treated differently by leadership, being blamed for the issue, being seen as weak, having people lose confidence in them, and other career impacts.
Over three-quarters of military members have alcohol abuse issues, and over one-quarter have problems with illicit drug abuse. Around 60% do not seek the necessary treatment.
Studies have found that proximity to behavioral healthcare services is a barrier to receiving care among military members.
Many facilities may not be able to manage the unique stressors faced by military members, such as deployment and related trauma.
The military has programs that provide screening and early intervention for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within a primary healthcare provider setting to reduce the stigma associated with seeking treatment options for these conditions.
However, the military has not adopted similar practices for emerging alcohol and drug use issues.
Instead, service members may face a dishonorable discharge or criminal prosecution for a positive drug test, which may prevent them from seeking care.
Military-Specific Treatment Modalities
Many members of the military population are unlikely to seek care in traditional settings, so researchers have begun to develop alternative treatment options.
Web-based single-session inventions have been found to reduce the number of drinks as well as binge drinking instances. Interventions such as this minimize stigma as a barrier to care.
Substance use and mental health care via telemental health modalities may also improve the quality of life for military members or veterans living in rural areas.
Since many military members may have PTSD along with substance use disorders, integrated treatment models have been used in these cases.
Integrated treatment has been shown to reduce substance use and mental health symptoms. Military members may also benefit from trauma-focused interventions.
Military Support Groups And Culturally Competent Care
Many states offer a variety of community-based military support groups. AMvets also provides various resources for support of military members or veterans.
Military support groups enable members to talk to those who have been in similar situations and have a unique understanding of military life that a civilian wouldn’t have.
A lack of understanding of the unique organizational structure of the military and its impact on the overall health and well-being of those serving makes it difficult for providers to provide effective treatment.
Cultural competency training addresses diversity within the military service population and provides information about military culture for more effective treatment.
Integrating Civilian Resources With Military Resources
Integrating civilian resources with military resources, such as veterans affairs facilities, can bridge gaps in military treatment, providing treatment to those who have found it challenging to find care.
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides residential treatment, referrals for hospitalization, inpatient and intensive outpatient treatment services, self-help groups, family counseling, and more resources.
Researchers have found that veterans and military members preferred those with shared experiences and culture as treatment facilitators. This connection contributes to a sense of equality and respect while reassuring service members during their recovery.
Receiving treatment from a veteran clinician may reduce treatment barriers and motivate service members to seek help.
Combining military resources with civilian treatment facilities can provide greater access to care by solving the problem of proximity to treatment and providing veteran facilitators.
Resilience And Strength-Based Approaches At Bedrock
Strength-based treatment is a type of psychotherapy that helps individuals find their inner strengths and use those strengths to overcome their substance use issues.
This treatment recognizes that all individuals are unique and have their own specific capabilities, boundaries, strengths, and stories.
Individuals undergoing this treatment will set SMART goals for recovery.
Strength-based approaches may be used alongside detox, behavioral therapy, or medication at Bedrock for a more comprehensive form of treatment.
Learn More About Addiction Treatment In Massachusetts
If a family member or a loved one is a service member or veteran seeking substance abuse treatment in Massachusetts, we can help.
Contact Bedrock Recovery Center today to learn more about our treatment centers and treatment programs for military-related substance abuse.
- Association of the United States Army https://www.ausa.org/news/paper-troops-need-more-access-medical-care/
- Casat on Demand https://casatondemand.org/2020/04/01/military-cultural-competence-an-overview-and-resources-for-serving-those-who-have-served-in-the-military-arriving-at-a-definition-of-military-cultural-competence-for-clinical-purposes/
- Health.mil https://health.mil/Military-Health-Topics/Centers-of-Excellence/Psychological-Health-Center-of-Excellence/Clinicians-Corner-Blog/Preventing-Identifying-and-Treating-Substance-Use-Disorders-among-Service-Members/
- National Academies Press https://nap.nationalacademies.org/read/13441/chapter/9#18/
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/substance-use-military-life/
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/substance-use-military-life#:~:text=A%202012%20In stitute%20of%20Medicine,and%20lack%20of%20confidential%20services/
- National Library Of Medicine: PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3321386/#:~:text=Each%20additional%20year%20spent%20deployed,increased%20odds%20of%20problem%20drinking.&text=Anonymous%20survey%20of%201%2C120%20soldiers,infantry%20teams%20returning%20from%20OIF.&text=High%20rates%20of%20exposure%20to,positive%20screens%20for%20alcohol%20misuse./
- National Library Of Medicine: PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5587184/
- National Library Of Medicine: PubMed https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25595168/
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) https://www.samhsa.gov/certified-community-behavioral-health-clinics/section-223/cultural-competence/
- United States Department of Defense (DOD) https://prhome.defense.gov/PR_ARCHIVE/PR_Home_2022/Home_2022/Organization/OFR/DDRP/