Addiction Treatment for Military Service Members

Author: Robert Rynfield | Clinical Reviewer: Emily Meyers, LPC | Editorial Policy Updated: June 14, 2024

Longbranch Recovery is the Leading Addiction Rehab Center for Active Duty Military

Struggling with substance abuse while serving in the military? You’re not alone. Active-duty military personnel face unique challenges that can make them more vulnerable to developing a substance use disorder (SUD).

The demands of military life—including high-stress situations, deployments, and the pressure to maintain peak performance—can take a toll on mental health and lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or drug use. 

But there is hope. By understanding the risks and recognizing the signs of addiction, you can take the first steps toward recovery and reclaiming your life.  At Longbranch Recovery & Wellness Center, we’re here to support you every step of the way with specialized addiction treatment designed for the needs of active-duty military personnel.

Substance Abuse in Active-Duty Military Personnel

a military service member sitting alone strugglign with mental health

Substance abuse is a widespread problem among active-duty military personnel, affecting individuals from all branches of the armed forces. While the reasons for turning to drugs or alcohol may vary, the consequences are often devastating, impacting personal health, relationships, and military readiness. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most commonly abused substances:

Alcohol

Alcohol is the most frequently abused substance among active-duty military personnel. The culture of drinking in the military, combined with the stress of military life, make it all too easy to develop an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Binge drinking, in particular, is a significant concern, with rates among military personnel consistently higher than those of civilians.

Illicit Drug Use

While less prevalent than alcohol abuse, illicit drug use is still a significant problem among active-duty military personnel. Drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin can provide a temporary escape from the pressures of military life but ultimately lead to addiction and a host of negative consequences. The use of illicit drugs not only jeopardizes personal health and well-being but also compromises military readiness and puts fellow service members at risk.

Prescription Medications

The misuse of prescription medications, particularly opioids, is a growing concern among active-duty military personnel. Service members may be prescribed painkillers for injuries sustained during training or combat exposure, but the highly addictive nature of these drugs can quickly lead to dependence. The ease of access to prescription medications—coupled with the stigma surrounding seeking help for addiction—makes this a complicated problem.

Military Alcohol and Drug Addiction Statistics

The numbers don’t lie: Substance abuse is a significant issue among active-duty military personnel. Consider these sobering statistics:

  • Nearly ten percent of active service members reported heavy alcohol use in the past month, with over six percent reporting serious consequences.
  • Binge drinking rates among military personnel are consistently higher than those of civilians, with about one-third of service members reporting binge drinking in the past month.
  • Over 16% of active component service members reported prescription drug use in the past year.
  • Illicit drug use rates among active-duty military personnel have been on the rise in recent years, with marijuana being the most commonly used drug.

These statistics highlight the urgent need for targeted interventions and specialized treatment options for active-duty military personnel struggling with substance abuse. By acknowledging the scope of the problem and providing access to evidence-based care, we can help service members overcome addiction and maintain their health and readiness to serve.

Risk Factors for Substance Abuse in Service Members

So, what makes active-duty military personnel more vulnerable to developing a substance use disorder? A variety of unique risk factors can contribute to the problem, including:

Deployment and Combat Experience

The stress and trauma of deployment and combat takes a heavy toll on mental health, increasing the risk of substance abuse as a coping mechanism. The intense emotions, physical demands, and exposure to life-threatening situations are overwhelming, leading some service members to turn to drugs or alcohol for relief.

Psychological Distress

Active-duty military personnel are not immune to mental health challenges like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These conditions increase the risk for problematic substance use.

Military PTSD

Work-related Stress and Pressure

The pressure to perform at a high level, maintain physical fitness, and meet the expectations of superiors is intense in the military. This constant stress can wear down even the most resilient individuals, making them more susceptible to substance abuse as a means of coping.

The Culture of the Military

The military has a unique culture that sometimes inadvertently contributes to substance abuse. The emphasis on toughness, the stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health issues, and the “work hard, play hard” mentality can all create an environment where drug and alcohol use is normalized or even encouraged.

Increased Risk for Injury

The physical demands of military service may lead to an increased risk of injury, which often results in an opioid prescription for pain management. These highly addictive medications can quickly lead to dependence and abuse, even when taken as directed.

Isolation and Loneliness

Being away from family and friends for extended periods, combined with the unique stressors of military life, may lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. These emotions make service members more vulnerable to substance abuse as a way to cope with the disconnect and fill the void.

Military PTSD and Addiction

PTSD and Substance Abuse

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after exposure to a traumatic event, such as combat, sexual assault, or a serious accident. It’s a common problem among active-duty military personnel, with estimates suggesting that up to 16% of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have experienced PTSD.

The Connection Between PTSD and Substance Abuse

Unfortunately, PTSD and substance abuse often go hand in hand. Service members struggling with PTSD may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and other distressing symptoms. Substance abuse can provide a temporary escape from the pain, but ultimately it only exacerbates the problem and can lead to addiction.

The relationship between PTSD and substance abuse is complex and bidirectional. PTSD can lead to substance abuse, but substance abuse can also worsen PTSD symptoms and make it more difficult to recover. It’s a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break without professional help.

Recognizing Signs and Symptoms

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of PTSD and substance abuse is crucial for getting help early and preventing the problem from spiraling out of control. Some common signs to watch for include:

  • Flashbacks or intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event
  • Avoidance of people, places, or things that trigger memories of the trauma
  • Negative changes in mood or thinking, such as feeling hopeless
  • Hyperarousal, including irritability, difficulty sleeping, and being easily startled
  • Increased alcohol or drug use, especially as a way to cope with PTSD symptoms
  • Neglecting responsibilities or relationships due to substance use
  • Continuing to use drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to reach out for help. There is no shame in admitting that you’re struggling, and seeking treatment is a sign of strength, not weakness. With the right support and evidence-based care, it is possible to overcome PTSD and addiction and reclaim your life.

Co-occurring Disorders in Members of the Armed Forces

Active-duty military personnel are not only at higher risk for substance abuse, but they are also more likely to experience co-occurring mental health disorders. These conditions can interact with and exacerbate each other, making it crucial to address both issues simultaneously in treatment.

Depression

Depression is a common mental health challenge among service members, characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities. The demands of military life—combined with the trauma of combat and the strain of being away from loved ones—can all contribute to the development of depression.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder, are also prevalent among active-duty military personnel. The constant stress and uncertainty of military life often takes a toll on mental health, leading to excessive worry, restlessness, and physical symptoms like headaches and muscle tension.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is another common concern among service members, particularly those who have been exposed to explosive blasts or other head trauma. TBI can cause a range of cognitive, emotional, and physical symptoms, and it can also increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder.

The Importance of Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Given the high rates of co-occurring disorders among active-duty military personnel, it’s essential to provide comprehensive treatment that addresses both substance abuse and mental health concerns. This approach, known as dual diagnosis treatment, recognizes that these conditions are intertwined and that treating one without the other is unlikely to lead to lasting recovery.

Dual diagnosis treatment typically involves a combination of evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), trauma-focused therapies, and medication management. By addressing the underlying mental health issues that contribute to substance abuse, service members can develop the skills and resilience needed to maintain long-term recovery.

Off-Post Rehab Program for Military Personnel at Longbranch Recovery

At Longbranch Recovery & Wellness Center, we understand the unique challenges faced by active-duty military personnel struggling with substance abuse and mental health disorders. That’s why we’ve developed a specialized off-post rehab program designed to meet the specific needs of service members.

Effective Evidence-Based Treatment

Our program is grounded in evidence-based practices that have been proven effective in treating substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. We use a range of therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), to help service members develop the skills and strategies needed for lasting recovery.

Inpatient Treatment for Members of the Military

We offer a structured, supportive inpatient treatment environment that allows service members to focus solely on their recovery without the distractions and triggers of everyday life. Our program provides a safe space to process trauma, build coping skills, and develop a strong foundation for ongoing recovery.

Culturally Aware Treatment

Our team includes veterans and clinicians with extensive experience working with military populations. We understand the unique culture and challenges of military life, and we tailor our approach to meet the specific needs of service members.

Specialized Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders

Our program is designed to address both substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders, such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety. We provide integrated treatment that recognizes the complex interplay between these conditions and addresses them simultaneously.

Family Therapy and Support

We recognize that addiction and mental health challenges affect not only the individual but also their loved ones. That’s why we offer family therapy and support services to help repair relationships, improve communication, and build a strong support system for ongoing recovery.

Aftercare and Relapse Prevention Planning

Recovery is a lifelong journey, and we’re committed to supporting service members every step of the way. Our program includes comprehensive aftercare and relapse prevention planning to help individuals transition back to their lives and maintain their hard-won progress.

Transitioning from Active Duty to Civilian Life

For service members who are transitioning out of the military, our program also provides support and resources to help navigate the challenges of reintegrating into civilian life. We offer guidance on topics such as employment, education, and housing, as well as ongoing support to maintain recovery in the face of new stressors and challenges.

At Longbranch Recovery, we’re committed to providing the highest quality care to active-duty military personnel struggling with substance abuse and mental health disorders. Our specialized program, expert staff, and compassionate approach create a safe and supportive environment for service members to heal, grow, and build a foundation for a brighter future.

Barriers to Seeking Treatment

Despite the prevalence of substance abuse and mental health disorders among active-duty military personnel, many service members face significant barriers to seeking the help they need. These obstacles often prevent individuals from accessing care and prolong their suffering.

Stigma Surrounding Mental Health and Addiction

One of the most significant barriers to seeking treatment is the stigma that still surrounds mental health and addiction in the military. Many service members fear being seen as weak, unreliable, or unfit for duty if they admit to struggling with these issues. This perception causes many individuals to suffer in silence rather than reaching out for help.

Fear of Negative Consequences on Military Career

Another common concern among active-duty military personnel is the fear that seeking treatment for substance abuse or mental health disorders will have negative consequences for their military career. Service members may worry about losing their security clearance, being passed over for promotions, or even being discharged from the military if they disclose their struggles.

Lack of Awareness About Available Resources

Many service members are unaware of the resources and support available to them for addressing substance abuse and mental health concerns. This lack of knowledge prevents them from seeking help, even when they recognize they need it.

Overcoming Barriers and Seeking Help

Despite these barriers, it’s crucial for active-duty military personnel to prioritize their health and well-being by seeking the help they need. Overcoming the stigma and fear surrounding treatment requires a shift in military culture, as well as increased education and awareness about the importance of addressing these issues.

Service members need to know that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and that there are confidential resources available to support them. Leadership at all levels must create an environment that encourages open communication about mental health and substance abuse and that provides clear pathways to accessing care.

If you’re an active-duty service member struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues, know that you’re not alone and that there is help available. Reaching out for support is the first step toward healing and reclaiming your life.

Substance Abuse Resources for Active Duty Military

There are a variety of resources available to active-duty military personnel seeking help for substance abuse and mental health concerns. These resources provide confidential support, education, and access to treatment services.

Military OneSource

Military OneSource is a comprehensive resource for service members and their families, offering 24/7 support for a wide range of issues, including substance abuse and mental health. Through Military OneSource, individuals can access confidential counseling, as well as information and referrals to local treatment providers.

Veterans Crisis Line

The Veterans Crisis Line is a confidential resource available to all service members, veterans, and their loved ones. The crisis line provides 24/7 support for individuals struggling with substance abuse, mental health issues, and suicidal thoughts. Trained responders are available to provide immediate support and connect individuals with ongoing care.

Tricare Insurance Coverage for Addiction Treatment

Tricare, the healthcare program for military members and their families, provides coverage for substance abuse treatment services. This includes detoxification, inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, and ongoing support services. Service members can access these benefits through military treatment facilities or authorized civilian providers.

It’s important for active-duty military personnel to understand the resources available to them and to feel empowered to seek help when needed. These resources provide judgment-free support and are a lifeline for people struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues.

In addition to these specific resources, service members can also reach out to their unit’s chaplain, medical staff, or leadership for guidance and support. The most important thing is to take that first step and ask for help. With the right support and treatment, you can go on to lead a fulfilling life while continuing to serve your country with honor.

active-duty military personnel struggling with substance abuse

The Importance of Seeking Substance Abuse Treatment

For active-duty military personnel struggling with substance abuse, seeking treatment is not just important—it’s essential. Substance abuse has devastating consequences for your health, relationships, and military career, but with the right support and care, recovery is just around the corner.

Improved Mental Health and Well-being

One of the most significant benefits of seeking substance abuse treatment is the improvement in overall mental health and well-being. As mentioned, substance abuse often goes hand in hand with other mental health concerns. By addressing these issues in a comprehensive treatment program, you will develop the tools and strategies needed to manage your symptoms and build a foundation for restoration.

Enhanced Job Performance and Readiness

Substance abuse also has a significant impact on job performance and military readiness. When you’re struggling with addiction, it can be difficult to focus on your duties and responsibilities, putting yourself and others at risk. By seeking treatment, you will improve your ability to perform your job effectively and safely, demonstrating your commitment to your mission and your fellow service members.

Strengthened Personal Relationships

Substance abuse takes a heavy toll on personal relationships, causing strain and conflict with loved ones. Seeking treatment can help you rebuild these important connections and develop the communication and coping skills needed to maintain healthy relationships. By prioritizing your recovery, you’re not just investing in your own well-being, but also in the well-being of those who care about you.