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Substance use among military personnel affects not only the individuals serving but also their families. The unique stresses and challenges faced by those in the armed forces create an environment where substance use can, unfortunately, become a coping mechanism. 

The military lifestyle is demanding, both physically and mentally. Several factors contribute to substance use:

  • Exposure to trauma: Military personnel often experience traumatic events, including combat, witnessing injury or death, and personal injury. Such experiences can lead to conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which significantly increases the likelihood of turning to substances as a way to manage symptoms.
  • Stress and pressure: The military environment is high-pressure, with service members frequently facing the stress of deployment, separation from family, and the responsibility of life-and-death decisions. These pressures can lead individuals to seek relief through alcohol or drugs.
  • Culture and accessibility: There is a prevalent culture of drinking within the military, partly due to tradition and camaraderie. Additionally, substances like alcohol and prescription drugs can be readily accessible, making it easier for service members to use them as a quick fix for stress or pain.
  • Mental health challenges: The demanding nature of military service can worsen pre-existing mental health issues or lead to new ones. Anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions can drive individuals toward substance use as a form of self-medication.

Signs to Watch For

Recognizing the signs of substance use can be challenging, but early identification is crucial for providing support and intervention. Here are some indicators that may suggest a service member is struggling:

  • Behavioral changes: Sudden changes in behavior, such as increased aggression, irritability, or withdrawal from social interactions, can be red flags. These changes might also manifest as neglect of responsibilities or a noticeable decline in work performance.
  • Physical symptoms: Look for physical signs like bloodshot eyes, unexplained injuries, or a general appearance of neglect. Frequent hangovers or illness without a clear cause can also be indicators.
  • Emotional instability: Mood swings, heightened anxiety, and depressive symptoms can all signal substance use issues. Pay attention to expressions of hopelessness or drastic mood changes.
  • Social indicators: Changes in social circles, such as associating with new friends who seem to encourage unhealthy behaviors, can be a warning sign. Isolation from family and long-time friends is another indicator.
  • Financial troubles: Unexplained financial difficulties or borrowing money frequently can be linked to substance use, as maintaining a habit can be costly.

Substance use within the military community is a significant concern for several reasons:

  • Mental and physical health: Substance use can exacerbate mental health issues, leading to a vicious cycle of increased use and worsening symptoms. Physically, prolonged use can result in severe health complications, including liver disease, heart problems, and a weakened immune system.
  • Safety and readiness: Military readiness and effectiveness are compromised when service members are impaired. Substance use can impair judgment, reduce reaction times, and increase the likelihood of accidents and mistakes, putting the individual and their comrades at risk.
  • Family and relationships: The ripple effect of substance use extends to families and relationships. Strained family dynamics, increased conflict, and emotional stress on spouses and children are common outcomes. These issues can lead to long-term damage, affecting the entire family unit.
  • Career: Substance use can lead to disciplinary action, loss of rank, or even discharge from the military. These consequences can derail a service member’s career and create additional stress and instability.

Steps Toward Recovery and Support

Addressing substance use in the military involves the individual, their family, and the community. Here are some steps that can help:

  • Encouraging open communication: It is vital to create a supportive environment where service members feel comfortable discussing their struggles. Families can play a crucial role by listening without judgment and offering support.
  • Seeking professional help: Professional counseling and treatment programs tailored to the unique needs of military personnel can be highly effective. Twin Lakes Recovery Center’s Tactical Recovery program helps Veterans overcome substance use issues.
  • Building a support network: Encouraging service members to connect with peer support groups or Veteran organizations can provide a sense of community and shared experience that is invaluable during recovery.
  • Promoting healthy coping mechanisms: Introducing alternative coping strategies, such as physical fitness, mindfulness, and hobbies, can help service members manage stress and emotions without relying on substances.

Twin Lakes Recovery Center in Monroe, Georgia, is here to help if you or a Veteran loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder. We offer compassionate care and provide practical and proven recovery tools. Our Tactical Recovery program is designed specifically to help Veterans and First Responders who are struggling with addiction and substance use disorder. With a holistic approach that nurtures the mind, body, and spirit, we offer compassionate, high-quality care in a supportive environment that fosters growth and healing. To learn more, please contact us today.