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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Substance Abuse in the Military

People in the military use and abuse drugs and alcohol for the same reasons that other people do: Drugs and alcohol can make you feel good. But the military lifestyle also may include other issues that can affect alcohol and drug abuse, such as:

  • The stress of being in armed conflict or knowing that you may be involved in armed conflict.
  • The stress of being separated from your spouse and family.
  • Long periods of boredom on a base or in a war setting.
  • A history of accepted alcohol use.

People in the military use the same drugs as people who are not in the armed services. These drugs include alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, inhalants, and methamphetamine. The rate of binge drinking, which is having 5 or more drinks at one time at least once a month, is high. About 47%, or nearly one-half, of those in the military binge drink.1 This is similar to how much college students in the United States binge drink.

Why is drug and alcohol abuse a concern?

Drug and alcohol abuse is a concern in the military for the same reasons it's a concern in the civilian population. It can harm judgment, decision-making, problem-solving, learning, and memory. It can lead to health problems and harm you and your loved ones. It can result in legal and money problems.

In the military, substance abuse also may:

  • Interfere with military readiness. The personal and family problems that substance abuse can cause also may make you less ready to meet your military duties.
  • Harm how well you do your job. If you are high or hung over on the job, you cannot function as well and you may be a danger to your unit and others.
  • Make it harder to maintain military discipline.

Substance abuse also affects everyone in your unit. Your supervisor and others may be taken away from other duties to help you. Others may have to cover for you, which can detract from their military readiness.

Your behavior can make a difference in how well your unit deals with readiness, logistics, and training. Substance abuse can put your life and others' lives at risk.

Treatment of drug and alcohol problems

Treatment for alcohol or drug abuse in the military is the same as for other adults. Detoxification, medicine, counseling, therapy, and 12-step programs all may be used.

All branches of the military have substance abuse programs. They provide drug information, treatment, testing, and prevention. Active-duty members of the military may enter a program in five ways:

  • You can ask for help with substance abuse if you think you have a problem.
  • Your commanding officer refers you for evaluation if he or she is aware of or suspects a problem.
  • You have a positive drug or alcohol test.
  • A doctor or other health professional refers you for evaluation if he or she feels you may have a substance abuse problem.
  • You get in trouble with the law, and substance abuse is part of the reason.

Veterans and substance abuse

Veterans also may struggle with substance abuse. They may have started using drugs or alcohol in the service or developed a problem later in life. Substance abuse problems in veterans also may be linked with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Veterans Administration can help you. Contact your local facility.


  1. RTI International (2009). 2008 Department of Defense Survey of Health-Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Military Personnel. Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI International.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerPeter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction

Current as ofMarch 12, 2014

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: 2/, 014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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