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  • Illicit drug use is uncommon in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and other military branches, but prescription drug abuse and binge drinking are prevalent

    Many active military members don’t get the help they need for substance use disorders because of stigma and fear of punishment.

    Common Drugs Abused In The U.S. Military

    The most commonly abused substance in the U.S. military is alcohol. The prevalence of binge drinking is significantly higher among active military personnel than in the general population. 

    Prescription opioids and prescription sedatives are the second most used substances in the military. Tighter regulations have decreased prescription drug abuse in recent years. 

    Are Drug & Alcohol Use Allowed In The Military?

    People in the military follow the same rules as civilians when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Illegal drugs are still unlawful, but prescriptions are sometimes necessary and alcohol is permitted.

    However, the military has stricter guidelines when it comes to drug use. There is a lack of confidentiality if you use drugs in the military. If your substance abuse is found out, it won’t be kept secret.

    The military does mandatory random drug testing, so you never know when illicit drug use is “safe.” Zero-tolerance policies mean a positive drug test usually leads to a dishonorable discharge.

    While the strict rules regarding drug use in the military have helped curb substance abuse, some people are afraid to ask for help for drug addiction for fear of being punished.

    Risk Factors For Substance Use Disorders In The Military

    People in the U.S. armed forces go through a lot during the course of duty. Their jobs can be hard on their mind, body, and spirit. 

    Risk factors for substance use disorders in the military include:


    Being in a war zone can be incredibly stressful. You have to remain alert, you’re unlikely to get the rest you need, and you’re taking lives. Drugs or alcohol might be a way to destress and forget.

    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

    Many active-duty military personnel suffer long-term effects after combat, called PTSD. They have nightmares and flashbacks and may be unable to face certain situations because of trauma and fear. Alcohol and prescription sedatives may help you sleep, but can also cause addiction.


    Whatever your role in the military, it can be stressful. Your job is important. National security and people’s lives depend on it. Alcohol and drugs may release some of the tension.

    Risk Of Injury

    During combat or in other military positions that require physical activity, you have a risk of getting injured. Severe combat-related injuries may be treated with opioid painkillers, which can lead to addiction. 

    Military Culture

    Weekend binge drinking is an accepted part of military life. It’s a way to decompress after a long week at work or to self-medicate mental health disorders.

    Why Is Military Drug Use A Problem?

    Drug and alcohol abuse in the military can cause many problems. You aren’t your best self when you’re intoxicated. Recovering from binge drinking or trying to work while misusing prescription drugs may have dire consequences.

    Military drug use can lead to:

    • poor decision making
    • clouded thinking
    • memory and learning problems
    • risky behavior caused by intoxication
    • difficulty focusing because of a hangover
    • aggression among colleagues
    • relationship conflicts
    • interference with team bonding

    Beyond how drugs or alcohol can interfere with your military service duties, an untreated substance use disorder (SUD) can lead to addiction. Over time, addiction destroys your physical and mental health.

    When you’re addicted, you prioritize drugs or alcohol over anything else. This shifted perspective can make it challenging to do what’s best for your country. 

    How Common Is Drug Use Among Military Veterans?

    Military veterans have higher rates of drug use and alcohol abuse than the general population. Veterans are more likely to abuse illicit drugs than active-duty service members. Heroin and cocaine are the most common illegal drugs among veterans.

    Many veterans are on opioid pain medication for chronic pain resulting from their time in the armed forces. Some suffer from opioid addiction and have an increased risk of overdose. Some start using illicit drugs (heroin and synthetic opioids) and accidentally overdose.

    Alcohol Abuse

    The most common substance abused by veterans is alcohol. Around 65 percent of veterans entering substance abuse treatment report alcohol as their biggest problem. 

    More veterans have an alcohol use disorder than non-veterans of the same age. They often use alcohol to self-medicate so they can forget trauma, cope with stress, and get some sleep.

    An estimated 37 to 50 percent of veterans returned from the Iraq/Afghanistan war with a mental health disorder. Many use drugs or alcohol to deal with mental illness, which can make the symptoms worse.

    Addiction Treatment Options For Military Personnel

    If you or a loved one in the military have a substance use problem, get help before the problem grows.

    Outpatient rehab programs are available across the country that provide personalized care for active-duty military personnel and veterans. Tricare (Department of Defense health insurance) covers some addiction rehab services.

    Addiction treatment options for military personnel may include:

    The most effective treatment programs use a blend of evidence-based therapies. To learn about your options for drug rehab on active duty or as a veteran, speak with a specialist at Ark Behavioral Health today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

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