The Issue of Substance Abuse in the Military

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The Issue of Substance Abuse in the Military: Before, During and Returning From Deployment Nicole Thomas
Psychology 101
March 18, 2013

The Issue of Substance Abuse in the Military: Before, During and Returning From Deployment
Current numbers estimate about one-third of people meet the criteria for a substance abuse problem. As one would assume, the number for people in stressful situations is higher (Lande et al., 2011). “Substance abuse includes alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, and misuse of prescription drugs (Agency Group 09, FDCH Regulatory Intelligence Database, 2009)”. Military personnel have always bonded over a beer, a night out at the bar, and other forms of substance use, but recent studies have shown an increase in substance abuse problems. “A study of Army soldiers screened 3 to 4 months after returning from deployment to Iraq showed that 27 percent met criteria for alcohol abuse and were at increased risk for related harmful behaviors (“Substance Abuse among”, 2011)”. Not only have substance abuse problems increased in the last decade in returning soldiers, but they have increased in soldiers before and during deployment as well. Before they are deployed, while they are deployed, and after returning from deployment, substance abuse is a real concern and extensive measures should be taken to prevent and treat substance abuse in military personnel From the moment someone receives word of their deployment, they can release many cognitive and behavioral reactions. These reactions are often mild, but not always. A small number of cases show the fear and uncertainty of the pending deployment causes a maladaptive response, and in this group, a significant number of people turn to substance abuse as a way of dealing with emotions before deployment (Lande, et al., 2011). Often when people are stressed, they find themselves having an extra drink or smoking more cigarettes then usual. While one or two extra drinks may seem harmless, if it gets out of hand, one may become substance dependent. The Iraq War Clinician’s Guide suggests two questions when determining if the client has an alcohol abuse problem: “On average, how many days a week do you drink alcohol? On a typical day when you drink, how many drinks do you have?” Then, if you multiply the days of drinking in a week times the number of drinks per day, and the number is above 14 for men, and 7 for women, the client likely has a drinking problem. The same formula is used for determining drug, tobacco, and other substance abuse problems. Once the severity of the abuse has been determined, the medical professional may recommend several forms of treatment, but if the abuse is too severe, they may recommend later deployment (Lande, et al., 2011). Although the number of people with a substance abuse problem before deployment is relatively low, substance abuse in pre-deployed military personnel is a possibility, and should continue to be studied so prevention measures can be taken. “The number of American soldiers seeking treatment for opiate abuse has skyrocketed (from 2004 to 2009), at a time when the U.S. military has been surging forces into the heart of the world's leading opium producer. Pentagon show that the number of Army soldiers enrolled in Substance Abuse Program counseling for opiates has soared nearly 500 percent -- from 89 in 2004 to 529 last year. The number showed a steady increase almost every year in that time frame but it leaped 50 percent last year when the U.S. began surging troops into Afghanistan. Army troop levels in Afghanistan went from 14,000 as of the end of 2004 to 46,400 as of the end of 2009.  The Army did not break down the opiate-use data to show how many of the soldiers had been deployed to Afghanistan or what specific opiates they were using; opiate drugs include morphine, codeine and heroin (Berger, 2010, para. 1).” Where troops are stationed, there are ‘black markets’ that many soldiers went to, to purchase illicit drugs. Going...
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