Substance Abuse in the National Guard & Reserves

While being a member of the National Guard or the Reserves is very honorable, national guardsmen and members of the Reserves may face challenges, including substance use and mental health concerns. In this article, we will review alcohol use, drug use, and mental health trends within these groups and how to get help when needed.

Alcohol use is especially concerning among service members and Veterans, as the occurrence of alcohol use disorders is the highest among all substance use disorders within the US military population.1

In fact, an estimated 80.2% of Veterans who have a substance use disorder struggle with alcohol use.2 Military culture and stress associated with being in the military may contribute to unhealthy drinking patterns and such patterns might persist beyond military service.1

While the information described above pertains to service members and Veterans in general, there are important patterns of use that are unique to those service members in the National Guard and the Reserves.

For example, research suggests that national guardsmen and members of the Reserves are at greater risk for substance use and mental health disorders than active-duty military members.3 In fact, alcohol use may be as high as 74.0% among reservists.3

Several factors may contribute to this, including feelings of guilt, feeling as though they are less valued, struggling to connect with other service members, and secondary trauma.3 Furthermore, research suggests that the more negativity a military member experiences regarding their non-deployment, the more at risk they are for increased alcohol use.3

Binge drinking is a major concern among service members and Veterans as well. Binge drinking is excessive drinking that results in a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher.4 This usually happens after men drink 5 or more alcoholic beverages within 2 hours and when women drink 4 or more drinks within that same period.4

Although binge drinking may be a sign of an alcohol use disorder (AUD), someone who engages in binge drinking does not necessarily have an AUD.4

Some signs of AUD include:5

  • Drinking more than intended.
  • Wanting to cut down on use but not being able to do so.
  • Having cravings.
  • Spending many resources (i.e. time, money, energy) on obtaining and consuming alcohol.
  • Continuing to use despite issues such as relationship problems, financial strain, or legal issues.

The use of other substances among service members and Veterans, including guardsmen and members of the Reserves, is a major concern as well. Some other substances that are of concern within the military population are:1

  • Tobacco.
  • Marijuana.
  • Heroin.
  • Cocaine.

It seems as though the rates of military members struggling with the use of such substances are increasing over time, and that these rates may even be underreported because of service members and Veterans not feeling comfortable sharing about their struggles with substance use.1

Some signs of a substance use disorder include:6

  • Irritability.
  • Continuing to use despite serious consequences related to use (i.e. relationship problems, financial issues, legal problems).
  • Changes in weight and appetite.
  • Mood swings.
  • Changes in motivation.
  • Changes in sleep patterns.
  • Paranoia.
  • Spending many resources (i.e. time, money, energy) obtaining and using the substance.

If you or a loved one exhibits any of the signs described above, please know that there are resources available to help.

Substance Abuse Resources

Inpatient and outpatient services that assist with recovery from alcohol and other substance use disorders are offered through the VA and community providers.7 Online screening assessments are available and this may be a good place to start.7

Behavioral Health in the Reserves

Stress, trauma, military culture, and difficulty transitioning back to civilian life can lead to mental health concerns for service members and Veterans, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.8 These issues can contribute to alcohol and other substance use, which can become an unhealthy pattern that persists beyond military experience.1

Furthermore, when someone experiences both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder, this is called a co-occurring disorder, which is another concern within the military population.9

National Guard Suicides are High

The Veterans Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and via chat online or text (message 838255).

Due to the mental health and substance use concerns described above, suicide is a concern within the military population as well. Furthermore, it has been found that the National Guard has the highest rate of suicides of all the military branches, so this is especially concerning for guardsmen.10

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide, please reach out for help.

Help for Veterans Through American Addiction Centers

The Veterans program offered at Recovery First Treatment Center—an alcohol and drug rehab near Miami—provides specialized services for Veterans, including:

  • Detoxification.
  • Individual therapy.
  • Group therapy.
  • Relapse prevention.
  • Skills training.

All of the substance use disorder treatment facilities owned by American Addiction Centers offer an addiction treatment program for Veterans. To find out more about the treatment program, simply call . Helpful admissions navigators are available 24/7 to answer your questions and walk you through the rehab admissions process.

Every AAC facility is proud to be a VA community care provider. Admissions navigators can help verify your benefits over the phone, or you can instantly . Please don’t wait to get the help you deserve.

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