I am the child of someone who served in the military, who was the child of someone who served…ad infinitum. Now, perhaps not surprisingly, I’m married to an active-duty service member. As a result, I have seen the weight of military life cause many to crumble into a shadow of their former selves. Some may have already been scarred before serving. Others may have witnessed or endured more than one person should ever be asked to bear. In either case, self-medication is not an uncommon result.

Substance Use Disorders in the Military

The military has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drug use. This affects people who struggle in a few ways. First, it makes it harder for them to seek treatment for addiction issues. Second, it is harder to tell how big the problem actually is. While underreporting is a known obstacle (O’Brien, Oster, & Morden, 2013), some anonymous polling suggests that 10.6% of service members reported misuse, overuse, or nonmedical use of prescription drugs within the last year (opioids, sedatives, and antidepressants) (Meadows et al., 2018).  The same study reveals that up to 35.3% of service personnel fit the description of hazardous drinkers or potentially alcohol use disorder sufferers. It’s important to keep in mind that these data doesn’t represent the full picture. It only reflects information gathered from those willing to report it.

Recovery Resources for the Military Community

Are these people without resources in their struggle? Luckily, no. Is it easy for them to get help within the system? Not necessarily. For starters, that zero tolerance policy scares some away from addressing an issue. The consequences of taking part in drug use are substantial. A person could lose their whole career or be dishonorably discharged as a result. Additionally, underfunded and/or understaffed resources within the system present another challenge.

The Military and Family Life Counselor Program

To its credit, the military created the MFLC program, or Military and Family Life Counselor Program, to address some of these issues. The MFLC aids military members and their families with things that may need to be handled in a confidential manner. This includes topics such as mental health concerns and addiction issues. An MFLC counselor may refer an individual to the ADAPT program (Alcohol Drug Abstinence Prevention and Treatment) if need be, however, anonymity should remain intact unless the person needs immediate attention or is a harm to themselves or others. While availability may be an issue on some bases due to staffing, the MFLC has given many the opportunity to address their concerns without losing their job.

Options Outside of the System

So, what does a military member do if they cannot get help within the system or are still concerned about the repercussions? The options are actually growing! The military, working toward lessening the issues within their branches, provide a handful of options at Militaryonesource.mil, suggesting the traditional routes of AA, NA, or calling the SAMHSA National helpline. An individual still apprehensive about the anonymity or the backlash has many other options to choose from.

It should come as no surprise that online one-on-one therapy, group therapy, and peer-to-peer help is on the rise. With informative sites like this one, app therapy options, and other free or low-cost options, many more people are able to get the help and support they need when cost, location, or stigma would have prevented them in the past. This can be tough and confusing, but arming oneself with information and exploring all the options can make the difference. With research showing that online addiction treatment can perform the same, or even better (Hathaway, 2018), we are closer than ever to leaving no man (or woman) behind.

Andrea Kubicek

Andrea Kubicek has a bachelor's in psychology and is working toward a master's in clinical mental health counseling. She is a member of the International Honor Society in Social Sciences, Pi Gamma Mu, and has previously worked for Wisconsin's state benefits system. On the side, she is studying natural and traditional medicine in order to better understand health in a more holistic way.

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