Substance Abuse in Iraq War Veterans

Treatment for substance abuse in Iraq war veterans is a subject that is often a prominent feature of veteran’s rights discussions. While the military acknowledges that many veterans are turning to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, there are often few treatment options for soldiers and sailors serving their country. In some cases, a drug or alcohol problem can damage a service-member’s career or even result in a dishonorable discharge. Therefore, many people in the military hide their substance abuse or alcohol problems. Others develop addictions once they have completed their service as a result of military-related mental health issues. Whatever the case may be, there are treatment options available that can address addiction and other issues as well – including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – a common and crippling affliction among Iraq war veterans.

The United States military makes it abundantly clear that it does not condone and will not tolerate substance abuse among its members. This is evidenced by aggressive articles in the Uniform Code of Military Justice that prohibit and punish for drug related infractions, and the nearly ceaseless drug testing of soldiers and sailors. But despite these significant efforts, a large number of troops turn to drugs anyway; with disastrous consequences. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse;

“In fact, prescription drug abuse doubled among U.S. military personnel from 2002 to 2005 and almost tripled between 2005 and 2008.” And; “Drug or alcohol use . . . was involved in 30 percent of the Army’s suicide deaths from 2003 to 2009 and in more than 45 percent of non-fatal suicide attempts from 2005 to 2009.” (1)

These figures are only for active military members and do not include data for the thousands of Iraq war veterans who are struggling with – and in some cases dying from – addiction and alcoholism. Unfortunately, military culture has traditionally taught its members to “be tough” and internalize their problems, and as a result many Iraq veterans never seek help. Even those that do seek help are often unable to obtain treatment. This is disturbing considering that up to 15% of certain groups of military members admit a problem with alcohol or drugs. In an article for the New York Times, Lizette Alvarez writes;

“Of the 88,235 soldiers surveyed in 2005 and 2006, three to six months after returning from war, 12 percent of active-duty troops and 15 percent of reservists acknowledged having problems with alcohol.” (2)

If accurate, these figures are alarming considering that these statistics were based upon self-reported data. The reality is that the prevalence of substance abuse in both active and former Iraq war veteran is likely much higher than reported.

Iraq war veterans with substance abuse problems should attempt to get help from the Veteran’s Administration, but if help is unavailable or delayed, private and public drug addiction treatment centers are available. Substance abuse treatment can address not only addiction, but also the underlying causes – such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. To learn more, simply call the number at the top of your screen now. We can help guide you confidentially and with no obligation whatsoever.

(1) National Institute on Drug Abuse Substance Abuse Among the Military, Veterans and their Families April 2011
(2) Alvarez, Lizette Home from the War, many Veterans Battle Substance Abuse Tuesday, July 8, 2008

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