Drug Use in the Military

When Elvis Presley was stationed in Europe during his military service, his fellow soldiers introduced him to amphetamines and other stimulants used to help keep them alert during long, boring patrol duties. Elvis became addicted to the little brown and green pills – and brought the problem back home with him to Graceland. The King’s death decades later (as a result of a prescription drug overdose) opened many people’s eyes to problems of drug use in the military – a concern that still exists today as thousands of American soldiers are currently fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Drugs in the military threaten our national security because they lower the readiness of our troops. They undermine authority and the strict order that fuels military efficiency. And most importantly, they damage human lives – the lives of the brave men and women who risk their lives to fight for our freedoms.

How serious is the problem of drug use in the military? After two decades in which general abuse levels declined across all branches of the U.S. Military, recent numbers indicate that the problem is once again reaching epic proportions. Consider the following statistics:

  • Since 1999, over 17,000 people have been discharged from the U.S. military because of drug use.
  • The Navy has discharged more individuals because of drug use during that time (3,400) than any of the other branches of the armed services.
  • Since 1999, failed drug tests have increased in the U.S. Air Force by 82%, and in the U.S. Army by 37%


In addition, many young people who have a history of drugs may choose the military in an attempt to turn their lives around and “get clean.” While this works for some people, others may end up brining their habits with them into service.

What are the Most Commonly Used Drugs in the Armed Forces?

There are several drugs to which soldiers seem to gravitate more than others. These substances include:

  • Marijuana. Easily the most used drug in the military. Marijuana is a relatively easy for soldiers to obtain. The drug is used to temporarily escape the stressors provided by the wartime environment.
  • Cocaine and other stimulants. Long stretches of duty lead many soldiers to turn to stimulants such as amphetamines or cocaine to stay alert throughout the course of the evening. The subsequent “crash” after using these drugs is dangerous because it leaves soldiers in a weakened state during what could be times of emergency.
  • Opiates. Vicodin and OxyContin are becoming more widespread in the military because of the euphoric effects they provides. Many will have these drugs shipped in from home, or brought over with incoming military personnel. They provide escape and self-medication against the horrors of war.

What are the Reasons behind Heavy Drug use in the Military?

Currently, there are several reasons why drug use in the military has reached the highest level in many years.

  • Stress. The soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are constantly under fire from the enemy insurgents. Coping with this stress on a day-to-day basis in the field has led many to drugs as a means of self-medication.
  • Access. Even though a “zero tolerance” policy has been in place in the military for several years, more soldiers have greater access to drugs than ever before. Family members and friends are sometimes able to ship the drugs overseas via courier, or soldiers returning to duty may bring them back from the U.S. as well.
  • Inactivity. Service in the military is usually represented by short periods of intense action – followed by long stretches of inactivity and boredom. These long stretches where there is little to do lead many to fill the time with drug use.
  • Alertness. As mentioned above, many soldiers will use stimulants as a means of enhancing alertness during patrols or nighttime duty.


How does Drug use Impact the Military?

There are few places where drug abuse is more dangerous than on the field of battle. Individuals who engage in substance abuse during war time are creating a number of potential problems, including:

  • Risking one’s own personal safety. Drugs can slow reaction times, which on the battlefield can mean the difference between life and death. Taking drugs puts the soldier at greater risk for being wounded or separated from their fellow soldiers during battle or troop movements.
  • Putting their comrades in jeopardy. In the military, all you have to rely on at the end of the day are your comrades in arms. If an individual’s judgment is impaired because of drug use, it puts the man or woman next to them in peril as well.
  • Creating the wrong kind of environment. A military unit functions on order and the chain of command. If conflict arises, or chaos ensues as a result of drug use, the entire unit will cease t function properly.

What Happens when an Individual uses Drugs in the Military?

The armed forces of the United States are not prone to hand-holding when it comes to drug abuse within its ranks. While there are some drug rehab programs available to soldiers on active duty, the more common response to the problem is dishonorable discharge. In these situations, a soldier receives a “black mark” on their record that can follow them for many years to come – even in civilian life where it may be difficult to find a job as a result.

Michael’s House is a residential drug treatment facility located in Palm Springs, California. The team of addiction recovery experts at Michael’s House is well-equipped to help individuals overcome their physical and psychological addiction to drugs and alcohol. Contact Michael’s House today for more information.