Report finds binge drinking, drug use rising in military

POSTED: 02:27 AM MDT Sep 18, 2012 
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Substance abuse has become a complex and serious problem in the military and not enough is being done to address it, a new report says.

In 2008 about half of soldiers in active duty were binge drinkers, compared to about 17 percent of the general population in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of prescriptions for pain medications written by military doctors quadrupled from 2001 to 2009.

Disturbing statistics such as these prompted the Department of Defense to ask the Institute of Medicine to look over the policies and programs the military has in place to deal with substance use disorders. The result is a report the IOM released Monday.

Some of those policies, the IOM found, may be outdated. Addiction treatment and recovery today are more difficult due to soldiers being dependent on more than one subtance, so more experienced counselors and therapists are needed.

The report said that despite a military culture that discourages heavy drinking and drug use, “alcohol and other drug use in the armed forces remain unacceptably high, constitute a public health crisis, and both are detrimental to force readiness and psychological fitness.”

Prescription painkiller use is “skyrocketing,” with some linking it to the consequences of combat: injuries incurred from hauling gear and weapons through several deployments.

The report listed a number of things the military could be doing better to curb numbers of addicted soldiers. It recommended routine screenings for alcohol abuse, and training health professionals to spot prescription drug use patterns and medication seekers.

Cheap alcohol should be harder to get on military bases, and underage drinking laws need to be enforced. The report also mentioned that people should be urged to get help if they have a problem, despite some obstacles currently in the way, such as health insurance, a fear of repercussions and not enough private services.