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Are military personnel at a greater risk for substance abuse?

Grandma's-Sad-FarewellSubstance abuse is an issue impacting millions of Americans. Substance abuse impacts individuals of every age, race, gender, and economic class. It impacts civilians, and even members of our military. A recent report issued by The Institute of Medicine indicates that substance abuse among members of the United States military has reached crisis levels. In particular, abuse of prescription opioids is on a steady and deadly increase.


Members of the military are faced with unique risk factors that increase their susceptibility for abuse, including co-occurring mental health disorders such as PTSD, anxiety and depression.  With an increased understanding of these risk factors, and the most commonly abused substances, military men and women and their families can benefit from early detection and proper treatment.

Prescription opioids

Prescription opioid abuse is possibly the greatest substance abuse issue currently facing the Military. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription drug abuse is more prevalent among U.S. military personnel than among civilians, and abuse is on the rise.

In 2002, only 2 percent of service members reported misusing prescription drugs. By 2008, that percentage had increased to 11 percent. The most abused prescription medications among military personnel are opioid pain medications, due to their ease of availability and increasing rates of prescriptions for personnel upon return from combat.

From 2001 to 2009, prescriptions for painkillers written by military physicians quadrupled to almost 3.8 million. This trend is likely in response to the need to treat pain associated with combat-related injuries as well as chronic pain resulting from carrying heavy equipment during multiple deployments.


Heavy alcohol use is much more prevalent among military personnel than civilians, and its use is rising. Forty-seven percent of active duty service members reported binge drinking in 2008, an 8 percent increase in ten years, with the highest rates among personnel with high combat exposure. The psychological and emotional disturbances seen while in combat, for many, translate into overuse of alcohol as a method of coping with distress.

Two other substances with high rates of abuse among military personnel include:

  • Tobacco: Heavy tobacco use is more prevalent among military personnel and use is escalating. In 2008, 30 percent of all service members were cigarette smokers, representing a slightly higher percentage than the national average.
  • Illicit drugs: Illicit drug use is lower among military personnel than among civilians, but abuse is higher, and is escalating.

The Institute on Medicine and the U.S. Department of Defense recommend the following steps to combat these increasing rates:

  • Proper training of physicians to identify early warning signs of prescription addiction.
  • Routine screenings for unhealthy alcohol use.
  • Increased use of evidence-based programs such as inpatient and outpatient substance abuse treatment and continuing care services.

If you or a member of your family have served in the military and are suffering from substance abuse, we are here to help!  Please contact Horizon Health Services today and ask about Freedom Village which is located on our Horizon Village Campus in Western New York.  This Veterans Specific Inpatient Rehab Treatment Center provides intensive chemical dependency treatment to men who have served in the military.  We also provide help for women on our Horizon Village Campus.

For questions and admissions call (716) 831-1800.