A great percentage of serving military members and veterans struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, with alcohol misuse being more prevalent. According to research conducted in the UK by combat stress, veterans often put off seeking help for their addictions.

Addiction and The Armed Forces.

Unfortunately, military personnel and ex-military members are at an increased risk of substance and alcohol abuse. Service men and women who have undertaken combat duty tend to be even more affected.

In the recent past, the Armed Forces have initiated measures that aim to help members and ex-members who are struggling with addiction. However, there is more that can be done. For starters, serving military personnel may be hesitant to seek help for their substance or alcohol addiction because they’re afraid of being punished. This fear is not unfounded. A service man or woman who fails a drug test is almost always expelled, and that decision tends to be final. 

In addition to alcohol, veterans tend to abuse prescription medication, ecstasy, cocaine, and amphetamines.

Why Armed Forces Members are More Likely to Suffer From Addiction.

There are numerous factors that contribute to a higher addiction rate among armed forces personnel. These include;

  • Life in the military can be tough. Most people who join the forces are quite young and they may turn to alcohol and prescription drugs in an attempt to cope with the challenges of being in the military.
  • Sometimes members of the armed forces may fall into drug use because they’re bored or lonely.
  • It’s not uncommon for people in the army, navy, or air force to witness or experience traumatic events. Such trauma can result in PTSD, stress, anxiety, and depression. Individuals suffering from these conditions may abuse substances to try and cope. 
  • Physical injuries can occur while in active duty. In such cases, an individual may need prescription medication which can result in addiction if misused.
  • There is a drinking culture within the armed forces. Members of the military are often perceived as being macho. In an attempt to fit into this image, individuals may feel compelled to abuse substances. 

Types of Addiction Common Amongst Military Personnel.

Alcohol and drug use often differs for veterans and active-duty military personnel. Let's take a look at some of the commonly abused substances within the armed forces.


Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance within the military. The risk for alcohol dependence increases with heavy drinking and binge drinking. Alcohol dependence can easily develop into alcoholism. A staggering 43.2% of serving military personnel take part in binge drinking. Of this percentage, 70% can also be classed as heavy drinkers.

The numbers are also high for veterans. Up to 65 percent of veterans who join a treatment program reportedly misuse alcohol. This figure is almost double that of non-veterans.

Prescription Drug Addiction.

Injuries may occur in the military due to combat duties, intense training, and carrying heavy equipment. Military personnel with such injuries are often prescribed medication. Prescription drugs, especially opioids, tend to be very addictive and are often abused within the armed forces.

Between 2001 and 2009, prescriptions for pain medication in the military quadrupled. During the same period, the percentage of veterans receiving an opioid prescription rose from 17% to 24%.

Illicit Drug Use.

The military has zero tolerance for the use of illicit drugs. A member of the armed forces with a positive drug test may be dishonourably discharged and may also face criminal charges. These strict measures discourage illicit drug use.

According to a 2015 survey, the percentage of active duty personnel who use illicit drugs is less than 1% across all service branches. The reported rates amongst veterans was slightly higher, with marijuana being the most prevalent illicit drug.

Addiction Diagnosis.

It’s not always easy for someone with an addiction to admit to themselves and to others that they have a problem. In fact, loved ones may identify the problem first. 

There are some signs that may indicate an alcohol or drug problem. These include;

  • A situation where drug or alcohol use causes you problems at work or at home.
  • If you carry on drinking alcohol and using drugs even though it’s causing you health problems.
  • If your loved ones have expressed that they’re worried about your alcohol and drugs intake.
  • Experiencing frequent blackouts due to the use of substances and alcohol.
  • It is very hard for you to stop drinking or to limit your drug use, and you tend to use more than you had intended. 

If your alcohol or drug use is getting out of hand, you’ll need to see a professional to get a diagnosis. They’ll ask you questions related to the volume you’re consuming and your frequency of use. This is undoubtedly difficult but your answers will help them understand your problem better, and they can recommend a suitable course of action 

Where to Get Help in the UK.

If you’re struggling with alcohol or drug addiction in the UK, you can seek help through;

UK Addiction Treatment Centres. (UKAT)

They offer a range of treatments and programs designed for veterans.

Call 0808 163 3559

Text “Help” to 66777

Tom Harrison House.

They offer an addiction recovery programme specifically designed for veterans and emergency services personnel.

Call 0151 909 8481


Veterans’ Gateway.

This organisation connects veterans and their families with suitable organisations that can offer them the needed support.

Call 0808 802 1212

Text 81212

Rehab Recovery.

Rehab Recovery is dedicated to helping members and ex-members of the military to find a viable solution for their addiction.

Call 0800 088 66 86

Combat Stress. 

They help members and ex-members of the armed forces with mental health issues. 

Veterans and their families can call 0800 138 1619

Serving military personnel and their families can call 0800 323 444

Email helpline@combatstress.org.uk



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