Abuse of prescription drugs is higher among service members than among civilians, and it continues to increase. In 2008, 11 percent of service members reported misusing prescription drugs. Almost half of active duty service members (47 percent) reported binge drinking that year.
In the 1960s, a significant number of service members used of marijuana and heroin in Vietnam. Approximately 42 percent of U.S. military personnel in Vietnam in 1971 had used opioids at least once, and half of these were reported to be physically dependent at some point in time. The American military actually supplied its troops in with speed, which it called pep pills. They were usually distributed to men leaving for long-range reconnaissance missions and ambushes. This was so common that were was a standard dosage recommended (20 milligrams of dextroamphetamine for 48 hours of combat readiness), although it was rarely followed. In 1971, a report by the House Select Committee on Crime revealed that from 1966 to 1969, the armed forces had used 225 million tablets of stimulants, mostly Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine), an amphetamine derivative.
Things began to change on May 26, 1981, when an accident occurred aboard an aircraft carrier called the USS Nimitz. A small plane crashed on the flight deck, killing 14 and injuring 48. There were also seven planes destroyed, and 11 others damaged, at an estimated cost of $150 million. Subsequent tests uncovered that six of the crew members involved had marijuana in their systems.
In December of 1981, the Deputy Secretary of Defense authorized the use of punitive actions such as court-martial for drug use. Standard drug testing would now screen for marijuana, cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, barbiturates, methaqualone and PCP.
There are several reasons why those in the military might have substance abuse problems. For one, many young people who have a history of drugs may join the military in an attempt to turn their lives around. Although this works for some people, others may end up continuing their drug use while in the service and even encouraging others to do so.
The realities of life in the service also play a role. There can be a great deal of stress, and short periods of intense action followed by long periods of inactivity. Certain drugs may else be used in an effort to enhance alertness. Of course, in seeking to cope with these problems, a drug user only creates more. Drugs can slow reaction times, which on the battlefield can mean the difference between life and death. Drug use not only puts the user at risk but fellow soldiers who are counting on one another for their safety.
Zero-tolerance policies against drug use may not be the answer, however. Since drug use and result in being dishonorably discharged, service members are less likely than civilians to admit they need help and seek treatment. A 2012 report prepared for the Department of Defense by the Institute of Medicine recommended increasing the use of evidence-based prevention and treatment interventions, expanding access to care, broadening insurance coverage to include outpatient treatments, and better-equipping healthcare providers to recognize and screen for substance use problems.
If you or a loved one need help to quit drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949-438-4504).