Drug and Alcohol Abuse Skyrockets in the Military

Drugs in military

While one would likely have to have been living under a rock not to be aware of the current drug addiction epidemic that our country is struggling with, there are the key, specific areas of drug abuse that are likely not that well understood. The average American knows that drug abuse is a very serious issue, yes, but the average American does not likely know about the intricate, specific, and detailed areas of drug abuse that make up the overall problem. Case in point, drug, and alcohol abuse issues in the military of all places has been a growing issue for years, now finally reaching a crisis level that warrants complete change and overhaul in how the various military branches address substance abuse.

The Institute of Medicine reported on military substance abuse, suggesting changes in how the military handles soldiers who succumb to a substance abuse habit. The Institute of Medicine only submitted their recommendations after extensive research and investigation did discover that substance abuse was a steadily growing problem, and in all branches of the military too.

Recommendations for Changing How the Military Ensures Sobriety Amongst Soldiers

According to committee chairman Charles O’Brien, director of the Center for Studies of Addiction at the University of Pennsylvania, much needs to change not only to reduce military substance abuse, but also to revolutionize the military’s methodology for “dealing with” substance abuse. According to O’Brien:

“Better care for service members and their families is hampered by inadequate prevention strategies…”
Charles O'Brien - Founding Director of Penn's Center for Studies of Addiction.
Charles O'Brien—Founding Director of Penn's Center for Studies of Addiction.

“We commend the steps that the Department of Defense and individual service branches have recently taken to improve prevention and care for substance use disorders, but the armed forces face many ongoing challenges. Better care for service members and their families is hampered by inadequate prevention strategies, staffing shortages, lack of coverage for services that are proved to work, and stigma associated with these disorders. This report recommends solutions to address each of these concerns.”

Charles O’Brien and many other addiction experts worked together and produced recommendations for the military, programs for reducing drug abuse that were presented to each military branch and which were also published in the National Academy of Sciences.

Some of the recommendations were:

  • The military needs to institute new regulations on underage drinking amongst members of the armed forces. The military also needs to reduce access to alcohol on military bases and to regulate it better. Alcohol is the gateway to much of the addiction crisis that occurs amongst soldiers, so this gateway should be stopped in its tracks.
  • Military personnel need to be given more and better counseling and therapy, whether in a one-on-one setting or in a group setting, to actually help them through the issues that cause them to turn to drugs and alcohol in the first place.
  • Screening for substance abuse, group lessons, and briefings on the dangers of substance abuse, intervention with personnel, group coaching sessions on preventative techniques and moral strength building, all of these should be mandatory activities in the military. All are strongly conducive to better mental health, and all are conducive to less substance abuse amongst personnel.

All military personnel should be trained in recognizing substance abuse in their fellow soldiers. Military personnel need to know what is at stake, and they need to know how to spot such habits in their fellows. In this way, addictions can be spotted more easily, and the military can take action to help their personnel before the problem gets out of hand.

These are just a few recommendations that the panel made to reduce drug abuse and alcoholism in the military. In all honesty, the entire system begs for change to keep with the times and to keep drug and alcohol abuse out of the military.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.