Substance Use in the Military

People in the military use and misuse drugs and alcohol for the same reasons that other people do: Drugs and alcohol can make you feel good. But the military lifestyle also may include other issues that can affect alcohol and drug use, such as:

  • The stress of being in armed conflict or knowing that you may be involved in armed conflict.
  • The stress of being separated from your spouse and family.
  • Long periods of boredom on a base or in a war setting.
  • A history of accepted alcohol use.

People in the military use the same drugs as people who are not in the armed services. These drugs include alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, inhalants, and methamphetamine. The rate of binge drinking, which is having 5 or more drinks at one time at least once a month, is high. About 47%, or nearly one-half, of those in the military binge drink. footnote 1 This is similar to how much college students in the United States binge drink.

Why is drug and alcohol use a concern?

Drug and alcohol use is a concern in the military for the same reasons it's a concern in the civilian population. It can harm judgment, decision-making, problem-solving, learning, and memory. It can lead to health problems and harm you and your loved ones. It can result in legal and money problems.

In the military, substance use also may:

  • Interfere with military readiness. The personal and family problems that substance use can cause also may make you less ready to meet your military duties.
  • Harm how well you do your job. If you are high or hung over on the job, you cannot function as well and you may be a danger to your unit and others.
  • Make it harder to maintain military discipline.

Substance use also affects everyone in your unit. Your supervisor and others may be taken away from other duties to help you. Others may have to cover for you, which can detract from their military readiness.

Your behavior can make a difference in how well your unit deals with readiness, logistics, and training. Substance use can put your life and others' lives at risk.

Treatment of drug and alcohol problems

Treatment for alcohol or drug use in the military is the same as for other adults. Detoxification , medicine, counseling, therapy, and 12-step programs all may be used.

All branches of the military have substance use programs. They provide drug information, treatment, testing, and prevention. Active-duty members of the military may enter a program in five ways:

  • You can ask for help with substance use if you think you have a problem.
  • Your commanding officer refers you for evaluation if he or she is aware of or suspects a problem.
  • You have a positive drug or alcohol test.
  • A doctor or other health professional refers you for evaluation if he or she feels you may have a substance use problem.
  • You get in trouble with the law, and substance use is part of the reason.

Veterans and substance use

Veterans also may struggle with substance use. They may have started using drugs or alcohol in the service or developed a problem later in life. Substance use problems in veterans also may be linked with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) .

The Veterans Administration can help you. Contact your local facility.


  1. RTI International (2009). 2008 Department of Defense Survey of Health-Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Military Personnel. Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI International.

ByHealthwise Staff

Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine

Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine

Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine

Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine

Specialist Medical Reviewer Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction

Christine R. Maldonado, PhD - Behavioral Health

Current as ofOctober 9, 2017