Military Substance Abuse. New flash, guys, the lion is in our yard.It’s Friday night, you’re in your active duty years, it’s been a hell of a week, and your buddy catches up with you before you leave base. We’re grabbing a drink or 20 tonight. Sounds like a good time. So you run home, you grab a shower, and you head out. You get hammered. But hey, it’s all in good fun. You head home, you crash, maybe you do it again on Saturday.
It seems harmless and it seems like a normal routine for most young adults, particularly for young military members. Now, read that again.
Digging Deeper Into the Issue
It seems harmless and normal because binge drinking is not only accepted, it’s acelebrated part of military culture. It’s used as a reward for milestones and promotions, to promote camaraderie, and to ease tensions between unit members. The abuse of alcohol has quite literally become baked into military culture, and no one bats an eye.
But take a second to think about how addiction works and how individuals withaddictive personalities can spiral down a self-destructive path before they realize what’s happening. 70% of addicted drug users started on the path of addiction with alcohol. That is not a statistic that should be taken lightly.
Why This Problem Exists
So you take a culture where binge drinking and alcohol abuse is accepted, and then you flip the coin and enact radical zero tolerance policies that result in members being busted down in rank, reprimanded on disciplinary boards, and even getting kicked out of service for drug use. Popping on a random drug test is a fast-track ticket to DRB. So why would a service member suffering from addiction feel comfortable asking for help? The short answer: they don’t.
Then there’s the whole other side to the issue. There’s the part where you have a culture that encourages recreational alcohol use (abuse) that then takes their members and puts them in situations that are breeding grounds for trauma, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. You’ve taught them how to use alcohol to cope and to socially interact, and then you throw them in the lion pit.
So it’s no wonder that when the alcohol doesn’t do the "trick" any longer, both active duty members and veterans go looking for something just a little stronger to mask the pain. And that’s where the downward spiral begins.
What Can We Do to Fix This Problem?
There is no overnight answer or quick fix to the substance abuse issue facing the military community. But understanding what we can do as individuals and military veterans to stop inadvertently making it a part of our own culture is where we can start.
Call your friends out. Call your troops out. Stop the problem where it starts. They might hate you for now, but they’ll thank you later.