Effects of Substance Abuse Amongst the Military


Substance abuse is an existing problem within today’s society and the military has not been an exception. Soldiers have over the years continued to test positive for drugs during the normal urine tests that are done in the military despite the measures that are put into place. In the United States, the DOD has clearly stated that the use of substances such as alcohol among other drugs is unlawful and subject to punishment especially if on duty.

The policies that have been laid in place in addition to these restrictive measures have not been effective in reducing the use of substances within the military. Heavy drinking has especially been reported among the newly recruited soldiers within the army. Various reasons have been attributed to the involvement of soldiers in substance abuse. This includes peer pressure, curiosity, genetic background, and stress on duty among other factors. The percentage of the male genders who are involved in substance abuse is higher than that of women who are involved in substance abuse. Substance abuse among military soldiers has led to various costs which affect individuals’ lives.

Major effects are especially on the individuals’ physical, mental and psychological health. This then affects the workplace since such individuals cannot be able to perform their duties effectively. They also affect the performance of others especially due to destruction and risking others to accidents at the workplace. Other effects are on the individual’s families and the society at large. This document discusses the issues related to substance abuse within the military focusing on the U.S military forces. It relies mainly on secondary data and builds on the literature provided by the other scholars who have studied the field.


Substance abuse refers to the overindulgence and dependence on drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, nicotine heroine among others (Andrew, 2003, P16). Substance abuse is a major problem within the work environment today. This is due to effects that result from the indulgence in substance abuse such as effects on the individual’s health both mental and physical. Among all other working places, the military department is one area that has been affected by the problem of substance abuse.

The nature of military life has propagated the abuse of drugs within the military. The distress that especially results from the duties performed in addition to long periods of boredom leads many soldiers to engage in substance abuse. The thesis of this study is that substance abuse within the military has major effects on the personal lives of the soldiers especially, socially, mentally, and physically. It leads to poor performance and effectiveness of the role that is played by the military in the state.

Significance of the study

The study explores the depth of the repercussions that have resulted from substance abuse within the military. It analyzes the major causes of substance abuse within the military and how this has affected individuals, their families, society, and also their workplaces. The study takes a look at specific cases of substance abuse within the U.S. Military forces. The results will be of significance to the policymakers in that they will help them formulate relevant policies that will help resolve this mystery that affects every economy. This will eventually benefit the common man in understanding the effects of substance abuse and also serve to give a better life for the coming generations.

Results will also be of significance to future researchers and scholars who wish to take further studies in this field. The general public who will take an interest in reading this document will also get a better understanding of substance abuse and its hazards in our economies. It also helps to reduce a knowledge gap that exists in the field

Operational definitions

ACSAP-Army Center for Substance Abuse Programs

CPA- Childhood Physical Abuse

CSA -Childhood Sexual Abuse

DOD- Department of Defense

NIDA- National Institute on Drug Abuse

PTSD-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

TBI- Traumatic Brain Injury

Literature review

Substance abuse is a subject that is very sensitive in any workplace. It is a big challenge to any institution especially the military in the issues related to substance abuse. These are the type of problems that cannot be eradicated easily although they can be prevented. The use of substance abuse among the military was first recognized as a challenge in the 1960s as their consequences spread to other sectors.

This saw the establishment of the rehabilitation center of drugs in 1971 where the addicts were rehabilitated through the use of medical services (Robert, 2007, p26). The soldiers in the military usually used drugs as a way of bonding amongst themselves. The military is also not very busy especially if there is no state of emergency in the country. If there is peace throughout and the government does not send its troops outside to aid in matters of peace then it means that the soldiers will experience long periods of being idle. The boredom that is sometimes experienced by the soldiers drives them to engage in drug abuse.

The most common drugs that are abused include tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol. Tobacco is especially addictive due to the nicotine that is found in it. Tobacco gives its users a wide variety of use for example it can be sniffed or smoked. Alcohol is though the leading abused drug in the military, especially on the newly recruited trainees. The soldiers usually engage themselves in what has been referred to as binge drinking (Douglas, 2005, p27). Most of the individuals who are involved in drug abuse are of the male gender. Among them, a higher percentage were reported to have experienced problems of CPA and CSA before they reached 18 (Elaine, 2005, p45)

In the United States, the DOD has put efforts to educate the commanders on the effects of drug abuse through NIDA and ACSAP. Other measures have been punishing the offenders who abuse drugs, especially when on duty. The department has especially emphasized the sensitivity of the roles that commanders play in the state and involving in drug abuse might compromise the services of security offered by this arm.

Strict measures taken by the department have over the years seen a decline in substance abuse among the commanders within the military. Zero tolerance campaigns have been on the increase within the military but this has not been effective in reducing the use of substances among the soldiers. Recent data has indicated that 23% of the soldiers are alcohol dependent, 27% have reduced performance ratings due to substance abuse while over 21% of the soldiers suffer serious consequences from drug abuse. In 2008, 13,500 soldiers were reported to have sort counseling for drug-related consequences while 7,300 had been diagnosed with drug abuse and dependency (Bray, 2008, p12).

Some of the most commonly reported effects include PTSD, TBI, stress disorders, suicide, violence, criminal activities, and arrests due to drunken driving divorce among others. Soldiers have also been affected in the performance of their duties especially constant sick-off, reduced output, lack of promotion, workplace injuries, destruction of other employees while some have been laid off (Mooney, 2006, p27).

NIDA has indicated that most soldiers who come from war often suffer fatal injuries that leave them disabled. Such soldiers have been administered nicotine depressants increasing further reliance on drugs. The acceptance of such a condition is a major challenge that leads most soldiers to drug abuse. Mental problems have been a major concern among soldiers who are involved in substance abuse.


Causes of drug abuse among the military

Within the military forces, the causes of drug-related problems can be attributed to various reasons. The most commonly abused drug is alcohol especially among the newly recruited soldiers which are normally referred to as binge drinking. One of the major causes of substance abuse is the background of the addicts in the military. Those who come from a background where they were abused either sexually or physically are more prone to the abuse of drugs.

Genetic factors have also been considered as a major cause of drug abuse. Those who grew up in families where their parents were drug addicts are more likely to be involved in substance abuse. Another leading cause is the nature of the jobs done by the military. Some of the duties especially when there is war may cause them distress and they turn to substances for relief. This makes them get involved with substance abuse and with time they get addicted. Other causes include peer pressure and the curiosity to taste drugs (Timothy, 2002, p62)

Effects of drug abuse in the military

Work Environment

In any working environment, substance abuse reduces the efficiency of the workers. The military is not an exception in this case and substance abuse among the military is a great threat to the efficiency of the services to the public. One of the major effects of substance abuse is that it is going to render most workers absent most of the time due to the effects of the drugs. On the other hand, the sick offs in the work environment are very many and this is an added cost to the government.

The cost comes in the information of medical insurance compensations. The government will have to undergo the cost of treating individuals who often get sick because of the complications that result from substance abuse. Individuals who are engaged in substance abuse within the military will affect the performance of their duties in their work environment (Kaufmann, 2007, p29). It also affects other individuals who work with the addicts. This is a major effect in the military especially because the duties are executed in form of teamwork.

If a certain team has been comprised of individuals who are addicted to drugs then their performance will be low and this affects the overall efficiency of the duties executed by the military. Drug users are also likely to endanger the lives of their colleagues in the workplace. For example, they are more likely to cause accidents within the workplace such as misuse of their guns, road accidents among other accidents within the workplace.

Personal effects

Drug abuse leads to addiction to using the drugs and long-term use leads to medical complications. This includes medical complications with diseases such as liver cirrhosis, cancer, high blood pressure, heart attack, asthma, depression among others. Other effects include getting flashbacks, vomiting, convulsions, withdrawal, and muscle cramps (Randall, 2001, p19). Involvement in drug abuse also influences the behavior of the soldiers especially in matters related to sexual relationships.

This has seen an increase in the number of soldiers who are infected with the HIV and Aids virus. Individuals who are under the influence of drugs are not able to reason well and they may end up engaging in irresponsible sexual behaviors. Apart from HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases have also been an issue within the military as a result of being under the influence of drugs. Uncontrolled use of the substances has resulted in various deaths within the military.

Others have suffered the blow of being dismissed and thus losing their jobs due to addiction to drugs. This adds to the problem of unemployment in society as these individuals will not engage in any meaningful form of employment due to their conditions. This eventually leads to an increase in the cases of crime since such individuals must find a means of raising resources to finance their drug intake.

Effect on family and society

It is with no doubt that soldiers who are involved in drug abuse cause distress to their families. This is because the individuals are usually not sober to catch up with the family issues including spending time with their families. Other effects include depriving the family of resources by engaging in drug abuse. This is especially a major problem for those who are addicted to substance abuse. There is also an increase in family breakups of soldiers who are involved in substance abuse. This is as a result of the influence of moods that is brought about by the substances used. Substance abuse distracts the family life and leads to dependence on other family members such as relatives.

As for the female gender, it is worse since it affects the children, especially if used in pregnancy. Such children are born when they have low birth weight and also fetal alcohol syndrome for those who are alcoholics (Swanson, 2008, P39). Within society, drug users are likely to be involved in criminal activities. This puts the lives of the individuals within the society at risk because of rising insecurity. Violence such as murder, rape, and assaults are also common among drug users within the military. Society is also affected by issues related to individuals who are rendered homeless due to the use of drugs.

Policy recommendations

The existing policies to control the use of substances have not been effective within the military (Kelleher, 2007, p31). NIDA and the ACSAP are the main bodies within the US military that are concerned with issues that are related to substance abuse. Even though the use of alcohol and other substances has been declared illegal by the DOD, a large percentage of the soldiers still test positive for alcohol and other substances (Humphreys, 2003, p47).

This indicates that the measures that are put in place are not effective enough to curb the use of drugs within the military. An increased percentage was especially reported last year during the wars in Iraq. These bodies should concentrate on policies that are more educative on the effects of substance abuse especially on the newly recruited within the military. Helping the soldiers to deal with their problems in other methods may help to reduce the risk of diverting to substance abuse. Impacting knowledge is the most important approach rather than dealing with restrictive policies.


In conclusion, substance abuse is a costly activity within the economy no matter the place it is done. This is because it affects all the aspects of an individual’s life starting from the personal life, workplace, family life, and also society. Individuals need to understand the cost of being addicted to drugs. Such individuals find it very difficult to quit such drugs even on a personal will. The policies that are put in place within the military should not only be directed towards curbing the use of substances but should be focusing on policies that are directed towards helping the military soldiers understand the effect of being involved in substance abuse.

Counseling should always be a continuous program within the military especially during the testing sessions (Daugherty, 2000, p32). The military should also take the time to understand the reasons why such individuals are involved in substance abuse rather than just condemning them of substance abuse.


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