Researchers Discover Rising Substance Abuse Rates in Wartime Military Forces, Inadequate Treatment Programs

Report Faults Military’s Strategies on Drug and Alcohol Abuse

by James Dao
New York Times, Sept. 17, 2012

Despite a well-documented increase in the abuse of alcohol and prescription medications among military personnel over the past decade, the Defense Department’s strategies for screening, treating and preventing those problems remains behind the times, a major new report finds.

“Better care for service members and their families is hampered by inadequate prevention strategies, staffing shortages, lack of coverage for services that are proved to work, and stigma associated with these disorders,” said Charles P. O’Brien, chairman of the panel that wrote the report and the director of the Center for Studies of Addiction at the University of Pennsylvania.

Watch gripping documentary showing struggles of a young soldier trying to adjust at home after war. Following his service in Iraq, Brad begins abusing alcohol and marijuana to cope with emotional turmoil from seeing his friends killed. (A&E)

Watch powerful documentary featuring the deeply personal stories of three Marines fighting effects of PTSD and dangerous addictions to drugs and alcohol. Paul’s effort to attend law school after coming home from heavy combat duty in Iraq gets derailed by anxiety attacks in class, sending him into deep depression and pattern of self medication before getting help through treatment at the VA. (UT San Diego)

The report by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, asserts that heavy drinking “is an accepted custom” within the military that needs to be regulated more carefully, recommending routine screening for excessive alcohol use.

About 20 percent of active-duty military personnel reported heavy drinking in 2008, the latest year for which data were available, and reports of binge drinking increased to 47 percent in 2008, from 35 percent in 1998, according to the report.

The report noted that while rates of illicit and prescription drug abuse are relatively low, the rate of medication misuse — particularly of opioid pain killers — has risen sharply: 11 percent of active-duty personnel reported misusing prescription drugs in 2008, up from 2 percent in 2002.

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View video of Marines taking part in unit drinking games:


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