Addiction is an equal-opportunity affliction. It can and does impact people from all walks of life. For certain careers, however, substance use and abuse can present special challenges. One such path is the military. Here’s a closer look at the topic of military service and addiction.
An Official Position
The Department of Defense is firm in its position that drug and alcohol abuse is against the law; violates the behavioral and performance expectations of a member of the US military; is detrimental to physical, mental and mental health; and jeopardizes the safety of users as well as those around them. It follows that it is the US military’s position not to condone the illegal use or abuse of drugs and alcohol.
Substance Use and Military Enlistment
When you join the military, you will undergo a thorough screening, which will cover drug and alcohol use and abuse. Your recruiter will almost certainly ask you if you’ve used illicit drugs and/or if you’ve been charged with or convicted of a drug-related crime. You can also expect to be asked whether you’ve ever been dependent on drugs or alcohol (psychologically or physically) and if you’ve ever sold or trafficked drugs.
While an affirmative answer to this last question is likely to result in ineligibility from enlistment, having used drugs in the past is not in and of itself grounds for ineligibility. Rather, you will likely be asked to detail the specifics via a screening form. Based on the details, the military will decide whether your background is a bar to service.
In most cases, people who have used “non-hard” drugs, such as alcohol and marijuana, will be able to enlist. However, those who have experimented with more serious “hard” drugs, such as heroin, ecstasy, and cocaine, will be disqualified. Even if you are allowed to enlist, it’s important to keep in mind that some sensitive jobs may not be open to you due to your past illegal drug and/or alcohol use.
It’s important to note that the most important thing in this process is honesty. Lying can lead to a dishonorable discharge (or worse) if the lie is discovered at any point.
When you enlist in the military, you will also undergo a physical exam, which will include a drug and urine test. If the exam reveals any evidence of alcohol or drug dependence, this will also lead to disqualification. Cases of non-dependent drug use may have different outcomes depending on the circumstances. Depending on the circumstances, you may also be eligible for a waiver allowing you to enlist.
Active Military and Substance Use Disorders
Military life and culture can be stressful — especially during wartime. Because of this, members of the military are vulnerable to substance use and abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Those with multiple deployments, combat exposure, and related injuries are at greatest risk of developing substance use problems. They are more apt to engage in new-onset heavy weekly drinking and binge drinking, to suffer alcohol- and drug-related problems, and start smoking or relapse to smoking.”
Factor in the military’s zero-tolerance for illicit drug use and the consequences of substance abuse and addiction while serving are significant and may lead to a dishonorable discharge and/or criminal charges.
But the current policies in place regarding drug and alcohol abuse in the military may end up doing more harm than good, according to experts. “Zero-tolerance policies and stigma pose difficulties in identifying and treating substance use problems in military personnel, as does lack of confidentiality that deters many who need treatment from seeking it,” says NIDA.
There is good news, however. Many resources are available to help service members and their families who are struggling with substance use issues, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; the SAMHSA Treatment Locator; the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA); the US Department of Veterans Affairs; and many others.
Additionally, addiction treatment can help military members and veterans suffering from substance use and abuse recover their sobriety and reclaim their lives. Contact us at Harris House today to learn about our targets programs designed to best support the recovery of our military heroes.