Military Life and Substance Use

Approximately one in ten veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, which is slightly higher than the general population. This can be because this particular population is often more directly affected by issues such as PTSD, long-lasting or chronic pain, suicidal ideation, and homelessness – which can all directly correlate to increased substance use. Additionally, active duty military members face day-to-day stressors related to deployment and military culture as a whole that can contribute to substance use dependency and substance use disorders. 

Often, active military members may be hesitant to ask for help, for fear that it will negatively impact their military career. Likely because of mandatory drug testing and zero-tolerance policies for other substances, drinking remains the most commonly used substance amongst active military.

While on active duty, service members can be dishonorably discharged for a positive drug test. While this may decrease use of illicit drugs for a time, it can lead to substance use and abuse once someone has left the military, especially if the individual was forced to leave due to their substance use. Leaving the military is challenging for a variety of reasons, the main one being the challenge of readjusting to their life back home. This can be an added stressor that encourages a veteran to turn to substances to numb the pain and make it easier to ignore challenges, and can ultimately lead to substance use disorders. For more information on substance use challenges for active service members or veterans, visit the National Institute of Drug Abuse. If you or someone you love are a service member struggling with substance use, you don’t have to face this alone. Resources are available.