Substance Abuse in the Reserve and National Guard

The Reserve and National Guard service members are an important part of the U.S. Military. These part-time service members are activated to full service in times of need. The Reserve and National Guard service members and veterans deal with many of the same stressors and issues of substance abuse as veterans of other branches of the military.

Substance Abuse Among Service Members

Substance abuse is an issue in the military. Studies indicate significant numbers of alcohol use disorders among both active duty service members and veterans, with alcohol use being more prevalent than that of illicit drugs.1 Though problematic substance use may develop as a result of several factors, there are many reasons that may additionally contribute to substance abuse issues for current and prior service members, including:1

  • Stresses of deployment.
  • Stigma against seeking help.
  • Loss of protective influences (e.g., zero-tolerance policies, random drug testing) when military service ends.

More than 10% of military veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, which is a rate higher than that seen in the general population.1

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Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol use disorders are commonly characterized by the compulsive use of alcohol despite the mounting negative consequences associated with such drinking behavior. Some of the additional signs, symptoms, and behaviors used to diagnose an alcohol use disorder include:2
  • Craving alcohol.
  • Experiencing withdrawal drinking stops.
  • Using more alcohol than was originally intended.
  • Using alcohol even though it increases family conflict.
  • Using alcohol in risky situations, such as driving and drinking.
  • Making repeated, unsuccessful attempts to stop using or cut back on using alcohol.

Alcohol is the most widely used substance among military personnel.1 Past estimates have indicated that 1 in 3 service members were binge drinkers, compared with 1 in 4 in the general population.1

Among veterans, 65% report alcohol as the primary substance that led them to seek addiction treatment. In addition, veterans are likely to report more frequent usage, and higher usage, than the general population.1

Drug Abuse

Drug addictions, or substance use disorders (SUD), are chronic conditions characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite their associated negative consequences.3 With some types of drugs, such as opioids, a person may be at risk of experiencing markedly unpleasant physical withdrawal when continued use of the drug stops.3

Drug abuse is relatively uncommon in any branch of the military. It has been estimated that fewer than 1% of active duty service members use illicit substances. Some of the reasons for these low rates of drug use are due to military policies and procedures such a mandatory, random drug testing and the fear of discharge or even criminal charges if caught using illicit substances.1

However, after leaving military service, the rates of drug use increase, with marijuana being the most commonly used drug. Overall, about 3.5% of veterans report marijuana use in the past month.1

Mental Health and Addiction

U.S. Reserve and National Guard can suffer from substance abuse and addiction.

Many veterans also have what are called co-occurring disorders, which means that a person is dealing with both a SUD and a mental health disorder. One condition commonly seen in veterans with a SUD is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).4 An estimated 2 out of 10 veterans with PTSD also have a SUD.4 And, roughly one in three veterans seeking addiction treatment also have PTSD.4

It is important to note that the National Guard has the highest suicide rate of any branch of service.The National Guard formed a special initiative—the Suicide Prevention and Readiness Initiative for the National Guard—to help identify risk factors and provide information about effective intervention techniques.5

Ask for Help

Veterans Affairs (VA) has numerous programs to assist veterans from all branches of military service, including the National Guard and Reserve. The Veteran’s Crisis Line is available at 1-800-273-8255, then press 1 after dialing to connect with a responder. The VA also has a screening tool about tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use that can help veterans determine if you or a loved one is in need of treatment.

Rehab for Veterans

Veterans of the National Guard and Reserve can access VA addiction treatment, but may also have the option to receive treatment from private providers. The MISSION Act, which was created in 2018, expanded the types of services available to veterans from the private sector.

Private providers are able to join the VA network, or become Community Care Providers, by contracting with the VA to provide services to veterans that are not readily available through a veteran’s local VA medical or rehab center. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a Community Care Provider.

In addition, if a National Guard or Reserve veteran has mental health issues, a substance use disorder diagnosis, or is in need of help of any kind, numerous resources are available, including:

What is Salute to Recovery program?

At AAC, we offer the Salute to Recovery program, which focuses on veterans and their needs for addiction treatment and rehab. Many of the staff members of Salute to Recovery program are veterans themselves, which helps them relate and understand the unique stressors and challenges that veterans face.

At AAC we are here to answer your question about addiction and provide information about your treatment options. If you or a loved one is a veteran, and you would like to learn more about our Salute to Recovery program, give us a call at (888) 902- VETS.

Take the first step on the road to recovery. Learn more about AAC's Salute to Recovery program.

If you have served in the National Guard or Reserve, know that resources are available for you. Whether you need help with alcohol abuse, drug abuse, or general mental health issues, know that help is available. The VA and their Community Care Providers, such as AAC, are experienced and knowledgeable in treating veterans and bringing recovery and hope to you or your family.

 

Sources

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Substance use and military life: General risk of substance use disorders.
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol use disorder.
  3. National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers. (2016). Warning signs of substance misuse and substance use disorders.
  4. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (2019). PTSD and substance abuse in veterans.
  5. National Guard. (2019). National guard initiatives to address suicide.
Last Updated on April 9, 2020
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Sarah Hardey
A Senior Web Content Editor for the American Addiction Centers. Sarah has worked with healthcare facilities across the country to create digital content for readers of all types.
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