Which Substances Do Veterans And Active-Duty Military Members Commonly Abuse?
There is not one specific substance that members of the military are prone to using. Instead, like the general population, veterans and active-duty military members are likely to abuse a variety of substances depending on factors like substance availability and the drug’s effect veterans are hoping to achieve. However, some of the most commonly used substances among veterans include alcohol, illicit drugs and prescription drugs.
Alcohol is the most frequently used substance among veterans and active-duty military members, with nearly half of active service members binge drinking within the last year. More alarmingly, 20% of military personnel reported binge drinking each week of the past month, with the number increasing to 27% for those with intense combat exposure.
Because of zero tolerance rules for active-duty service members, the rates of illicit drug use are low. Only 2.3% of active personnel reported use in the last month, compared to 12% for people out of the military.
Rates of illicit drug use are higher for veterans, who are likely to abuse:
Because of the military’s zero-tolerance policy against illicit drugs, more active-duty service members are seeking out and abusing prescription medications. Prescription drug abuse is an emerging trend in the military, with people commonly using opioids and sedatives.
Opioids & Painkillers
Opioids block the experience of pain and can elicit a feeling of euphoria. Approximately 24% of veterans in the VA health system receive prescriptions for opioids, which can be addictive if used in excess or over an extended period.
Frequently abused opioids include:
Sedatives (Benzodiazepines and Sleeping Medications)
Doctors prescribe sedatives like benzodiazepines and sleeping medications to help with sleep and anxiety disorders. Because veterans tend to grapple with these conditions more often than members of the general population, they may be more likely to abuse benzodiazepine and sleeping medications.
When abused, benzodiazepines create a strong feeling of relaxation and sedation. Examples of common benzodiazepines include:
Sleep medications help someone fall asleep and stay asleep. Abuse happens when someone uses more of the drug than prescribed or for a longer period. Examples of popular sleeping medications include Ambien and Lunesta.