One issue that should matter to every American citizen is the health and wellbeing of our military personnel. Whether they are currently active duty or veterans, having resources available to help manage a substance use disorder, or a dual diagnosis with a co-occurring mental health disorder, is imperative. These brave men and women put their lives on the line, selflessly serving the country in the best interests of our country, and they deserve support.
Although the rates of substance use among our active military members have declined in the past few years, substance use continues to be a problem. Active military members may use alcohol, prescription opioids, marijuana, and stimulants to self-medicate emotional distress, boredom, painful injuries, or a co-occurring mood disorder.
Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding substance use, and the strict zero tolerance policy, can deter soldiers from voluntarily getting the help they need. These men and women may refrain from getting necessary substance use or mental health treatment in fear of it harming their career or impacting their security clearance privileges. Although the armed forces have established clear guidelines that state there is no negative repercussion for a soldier obtaining treatment, the fear remains a serious obstacle.
Untreated substance use disorders tend to escalate, eventually having a negative effect on the individual’s military career. In addition, the veterans assimilating back into civilian life, who may have never been treated for the substance problem while active, then return home with an entrenched substance issue. Thankfully, there are multiple resources for veterans with a substance use or co-occurring disorders, both in the private sector and through the services provided by the Veteran’s Administration.
How Substance Use Impacts Active Military Personnel
Members of our armed forces are impacted by substance use in the same ways as the civilian population. Alcohol is the most common substance of abuse in the military, with about 20% of our troops engaging in heavy alcohol use. Alcohol, opioid or cocaine misuse can evolve into addiction or dependency, while dangerous binge drinking can result in alcohol poisoning.
The role of our military, however, carries more responsibility than that of the private citizen. These individuals are charged with important tasks that depend on their being alert, accurate, physically and mentally fit, and dependable. Substance use can threaten the individual’s ability to perform their tasks, which can endanger comrades and others who depend on them.
To provide a deterrent, the Department of Defense requires military personnel to participate in random drug testing, which helps to reduce the number of individuals engaging in substance use. Members of the military can be dishonorably discharged, or even face criminal prosecution, for a positive drug test. In fact, substance use is considered the commission of a serious offense, and can be processed for separation by reason of misconduct.
The Role of Mental Health Disorders in Substance Use Among Members of the Military
Members of the military are exposed to certain environmental stressors, such as deployment, combat exposure, and reintegration issues once their tour is completed. In recent years a focus on the role of mental health as a factor in the development of a substance use disorder was sparked due to the high rates of suicides among military personnel.
The most common mental health disorders among active military and veterans include anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These mental health issues are strongly correlated with substance use, as individuals seek to mitigate the psychological distress with substances. What can result is called a dual diagnosis, or co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders.
What Treatment is Available for Active Military Personnel?
The commanding officer of an active duty military member can refer them to detox and treatment. An initial assessment will result in the recommendation appropriate to the degree of substance use severity. If the recommendation is for inpatient treatment, the commander will be apprised of the individual’s progress and obtain information that can influence decisions regarding fitness for duty. The recruit can obtain treatment through the military or through a civilian addiction recovery program.
Treatment will involve multiple elements that are designed to help the individual change the disordered thought and behavior patterns that perpetuate the substance use. If there is a coexisting mental health condition, that will be treated at the same time as the substance use disorder. Treatment elements include:
- Withdrawal Management. This is the process of stabilizing the withdrawal response when the substance has been stopped. Medications and psychological support are provided to assist the individual through the process.
- Psychotherapy. Individual and group therapy can help the individual examine any underlying emotional issues that may be contributory. Cognitive behavioral therapy and other evidence-based psychotherapies are the centerpiece of addiction treatment.
- Medication Supported Recovery. MSR involves medical management of the recovery process for certain substances, such as opioid addiction or alcohol dependency. The medications bind to the opioid receptors in the brain and diminish the effects of the substance, which can significantly support a sustained recovery.
Ashley Addiction Treatment
Ashley Addiction Treatment offers a residential substance recovery program on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. The program utilizes a successful multi-modal approach, including evidence-based therapy, holistic therapies, and medication supported recovery. For more information about the program, please contact us today at 800-799-4673.