Substance Use and Military Life

General Risk of Substance Use Disorders

The stresses of deployments and the unique culture of the military offer both risks and protective factors related to substance use among active duty personnel.1 Deployment is associated with smoking initiation, unhealthy drinking, drug use and risky behaviors. Zero-tolerance policies, lack of confidentiality and mandatory random drug testing that might deter drug use can also add to stigma, and could discourage many who need treatment from seeking it. For example, half of military personnel have reported that they believe seeking help for mental health issues would negatively affect their military career. However, overall, illicit drug use among active duty personnel is relatively low and cigarette smoking and misuse of prescription drugs have decreased in recent years. In contrast, rates of binge drinking are high compared to the general population.

Service members can face dishonorable discharge and even criminal prosecution for a positive drug test, which can discourage illicit drug use. Once active duty personnel leave the military some protective influences are gone, and substance use and other mental health issues become of greater concern.

More than one in ten veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, slightly higher than the general population.3 One study found that the overall prevalence of substance use disorders (SUDs) among male veterans was lower than rates among their civilian counterparts when all ages were examined together. However, when looking at the pattern for only male veterans aged 18–25 years, the rates were higher in veterans compared with civilians. The veteran population is also greatly impacted by several critical issues related to substance use, such as pain, suicide risk, trauma, and homelessness.

Learn more about Substance Use and Military Life here

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Prescription Opioids

What are prescription opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Some prescription opioids are made from the plant directly, and others are made by scientists in labs using the same chemical structure. Opioids are often used as medicines because they contain chemicals that relax the body and can relieve pain. Prescription opioids are used mostly to treat moderate to severe pain, though some opioids can be used to treat coughing and diarrhea. Opioids can also make people feel very relaxed and “high” – which is why they are sometimes used for non-medical reasons. This can be dangerous because opioids can be highly addictive, and overdoses and death are common. Heroin is one of the world’s most dangerous opioids, and is never used as a medicine in the United States.

Popular slang terms for opioids include Oxy, Percs, and Vikes.

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Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

What is marijuana?

Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant. The plant contains the mind-altering chemical THC and other similar compounds. Extracts can also be made from the cannabis plant.

Marijuana is the most commonly used psychotropic drug in the United States, after alcohol.1 Its use is widespread among young people. In 2018, more than 11.8 million young adults used marijuana in the past year. According to the Monitoring the Future survey, rates of past year marijuana use among middle and high school students have remained steady, but the number of teens in 8th and 10th grades who say they use it daily has increased. With the growing popularity of vaping devices, teens have started vaping THC (the ingredient in marijuana that produces the high), with nearly 4% of 12th graders saying they vape THC daily. In addition, the number of young people who believe regular marijuana use is risky is decreasing.

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Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.