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Alcohol and Drug Addiction in the Military

Alcohol Abuse Among Soldiers

Alcohol abuse is prevalent within the British military, with soldiers consuming alcohol at higher rates than civilians. This pattern of drinking can inflict many negative effects on soldiers, including fighting or other injury from risky, alcohol-fuelled behaviour; alcohol poisoning; hangovers and addiction.

A member of the army who suffers from addiction problems can become a major liability. Their own performance will be negatively impacted, and their behaviour may well jeopardise larger operations, as well as negatively impact on their colleagues. In addition, their problem may impact on the morale of the group if it is left untreated or ignored. In the case of addiction, it is the responsibility of the commanding officer to refer the service member to the appropriate treatment services.

Drug Use Within the Military

Use of illegal drugs is policed with a zero tolerance policy in the British army. But this does not stop service members from abusing them. For example, in the US military, drug abuse has been implicated in 17,000 discharges since 1999. The increasing availability of ‘legal highs’, and growing abuse of prescription drugs should also be a source of concern within the army.

Prescription Drugs Abuse Within the Military

Prescription drugs are now widely prescribed to service members, which has seen a growing problem of abuse. Soldiers are commonly prescribed medication for depression, anxiety, and insomnia, as well as antipsychotics. Sometimes, the soldier is entrusted to regulate their own doses of medication for up to several months. Consequently, the abuse of prescription drugs within the US army tripled between 2005 and 2008. In fact, one in four combat soldiers in the US military admitted to abusing prescription drugs. Suicide rates are also worryingly high for both active soldiers and veterans, in both the US and the UK.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Among Soldiers

During their service with the army, it is possible that soldiers will experience traumatic episodes. This is especially common among combat soldiers who may experience atrocities first hand. It is likely that these events will lodge in the minds of soldiers, and be replayed, if they are not processed effectively, with the help of therapy. During military service, it’s likely that these issues aren’t addressed.

When they are unable to cope with these memories, soldiers may experience depression, and anxiety, which in turn may lead them to isolate themselves from friends and colleagues. If these symptoms persist over time, the soldier will likely reach the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is possible for the soldier to recover from this independently, but many will require a specialised therapeutic intervention.

Addiction Among War Veterans

Alcohol and drug abuse problems among veterans are widespread. Veterans who abuse alcohol and drugs harm themselves, as well as their families and their communities. Although there are no statistics for the UK, a US study found that 60% of 140,000 veterans experienced substance abuse problems. It is likely to be a similar case for the UK. In 2013 it was reported that one in 10 homeless people in the UK were former service members.

This can be attributed to factors such as soldiers receiving inadequate support after leaving the army, especially in regards to their mental health. The slow development of PTSD may mean that soldiers still functioning well within the army may start to experience symptoms when they have returned home. Factors such as the isolation many experience after leaving the army, can intensify any psychological issues ex-soldiers may have.

Smarmore Castle follows the same clinical model as our partner establishment, Castle Craig. Castle Craig has successfully treated active members and veterans of the UK and international armies for alcohol and drug abuse, for more than 30 years.

Our leading rehab centre is recognised by medical insurers and the NHS as an effective provider of treatment for both addiction and trauma problems. Military servicemen and women, as well as sufferers of PTSD, have been shown to respond best to inpatient care – the type of care we provide in our residential facility at Smarmore Castle.

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Last updated & clinically assessed 4 February, 2021