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Addiction Stigma in the Military

Mary Florence is a seasoned writer interested in general social topics.

An addiction is a gradual process caused by a person's inability to control the use of a substance, whether illicit or prescribed. Substance use is not a new phenomenon unique to the military only. Around us, we know someone or people who use drugs or alcohol. Before we understand addiction stigma, the question that begs answers is “why do people use drugs in the military?”. Everyone that uses a substance in the military has their own reason. For some there is no reason at all- the drug or alcohol was available and youused it. Others were bored, or lonely. Some were undergoing some emotional distress. Every addiction journey is different. The common denominator in all addiction stories is that the first drug or alcohol sip that was ever taken was free. It eventually turns into a problem when it takes over your life as an addiction.

Understanding addiction stigma

Addiction stigma is the shame and disgrace associated with substance use. There are two types of stigma, i.e., self- stigma and public stigma. The expectations of the military towards the substance user will be determined by the rules and the standards of the military. The self- stigma also stems from the fact that you understand what is expected of you by the institution and the public. Unfortunately, you may use the drugs and alcohol more when you internalize the society’s perception of you. You are already absorbed in the addiction and the internal and external stigma only worsens it. The downside of addiction stigma is that it makes it challenging for people to seek help. One on hand you may bear the perception that when the addiction is exposed it may interfere with your career. On the other hand, the military is associated with discipline, teamwork, and self-reliance and the fact that you have been overwhelmed by your addiction is stigmatized and that will therefore cause you to suffer silently because you do not want to be treated disgracefully and hence the addiction persists.

Why is drug and alcohol use prevalent in the military?

The service men encounter more social pressure than the general community from loneliness, post-traumatic disoders, boredom and peer pressure.When the stressors kick in sometimes the substance you may have no chioice but to consume the one thing that you believe can make you forget your challenges. Drug and alcohol use will be the constant solution but as soon as the intoxication wears out you have to face the reality. Drug and alcohol addiction is forbidden in the military, but they are always available. There can never be a drug addict in a place with no drugs. If there is a drug addict in the military, it is normal to conclude that someone has availed it. The number of people using drugs continues to decrease because deterents such as random testings exist. You can face a dishonorable discharge and even face a criminal charge for using drugs. The military should seek ways to nurture a supportive culture by reducing the stigma associated by addiction so that the users can have the confidence in seeking intervention. However the most important remedy is for the military to make sure that the military personnel can access mental health care for them to find healthier avenues to cope with emotional and mental issues. Preventing drug and alcohol use is easier than treating addictions.

Drug and alcohol use in the military

You probably started using the drugs and alcohol for recreation. Or as an escape mechanism. Eventually it turned into an addiction because of dependency. Overcoming a drug and alcohol addiction takes more than discipline. The will to get over the addiction will come from yourself and the community.That is why at the core of every drug addiction success story there is a support forum.

The implication of drug and alcohol addiction in the military

Illicit drugs such as cocoaine, heroine and marijuana are forbidden in the military and you can serve a jail term and delisted if it is found in your system. However, alcohol and has always been present in the service as a form of recreation. It is normal for the service men to engage in some binge eating during a celebration or to release tension. The availability of alcohol in the military may contribute to alcohol addiction. Dependency on drugs and alcohol is therefore common in the military. It is worth noting that trafficking of illegal drugs is a crime even in the military and it is therefore a mystery that the users can still access them. Some servicemen abuse prescribed drugs. The stand of the military towards drug use is zero-tolerance.

Withdrawal from drugs and alcohol

Withdrwal from drugs alcohol addiction is not a one-day event. The process towards addiction and the process towards recovery are similar although the former was subconscious and the later is a tougher journey because you are conscious. Everything about addcition revolves around you and the effort you should make you get out of it. However, all the measures that you may take towards withdrawa will be futile if the society does not support you because it pushes you back to the lonely spot where the only solace you had was drugs and alcohol. It would be best if the military could support your efforts to withdraw from drugs and alcohol.

How to get out of drugs and alcohol use

When you are in active service you have to get over your drugs and alohol addiction before it is tracedin your system. You have to expect withdrawal symptoms for which you will need medical attention and therapy. Some of the symptoms that you will esperience are depression, fatigue,aches and pain, cravings, hallucinations and insomnia. The following are some helpful tips for drug withdrawal;

Know your triggers and avoid them

Avoid the places where you are likely to get the drugs and alcohol. It is not wise to place yourself in tempting positions. As you are battling your addiction, the best way to prevent indulgence is by avoiding the places that tempt you entirely. The reality about addiction is that it is uncontrollable.

Keep company that does not use drugs and alcohol

The easiest way to get over a drug and alcohol addiction is to surround yourself with the company that you aspire to be like. Peer influence is not only an adolescent phenomenon. If you surround yourself with company that uses drugs and alcohol you are likely to use drugs and alcohol too to fit in. a company that does not use drugs and alcohol is likely to discourage you from using drugs and that is the positive support that you need to get over drugs.

Engage in physical activities

Engage in physical activities and sport and any hobby that you can enjoy to keep your mind busy. The main reason why people use drugs and alcohol is boredom and idling. When you exercise you also emit endorphin, a hormone that is known as the “feel good homone”. The endorphin effect is similar to the effect that you experience when you do use drugs and alcohol.

Improve your appearance

Using drugs and neglecting yourself are inter-related. It is easy to pick out a drug and alcohol addict out of a group based on the appearance. The first step to healing inwardly is healing outwardly. To treat your drug and alcohol addcition, you have to make sure that you do not look like a drug addict first.

Keep track of your progress

You can keep a journal for every day that you get through without using drugs and alcohol. Keeping a journal makes the withdrawal exciting .

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Have an accountability partner

Find someone to guide you through your jouney. The accountability parntner is useful in ensuring that you stay committed. The accountability partner can be a professional therapist or even a person who wants to get over the drug addiction.

Join a support group

Having a support network is important because they share in your excitement as you make milestones in your withdrawal process. The support network will encourage you. Overcoming drugs and alcohol use is easier when there is a support group than when it is a personal journey.

Seek counseling

Counseling need not be professional but any positive guidance that you can get will be beneficial to your addiction journey. The cousellor can help you in identifying the root of your addiction. Peer counseling is also useful.

Why you should get help for drug and alcohol abuse

Militaries intend to have service persons who are competent, effective, healthy and alert and drugs and alcohol can be an impediment to achieving the goals of the military.

The following are more reasons why you should seek help for drug and alcohol use in the military;

  • Substance use can cause bipolar, anxiety, depression and psychosis.
  • The drugs and alcohol can negatively affect your performance.
  • Sometimes drugs and alcohol can cause organ failure.
  • ·For job security – the military will not retain you if you have a drug and alcohol addiction. You may even lose your freedom because if illicit drugs are traced in your system you can be jailed.

Treatment options for drug and alcohol addictions

There is no standard treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. What worse for one person may not work for the next person.The treatment you choose will also be determined by the extent of the addiction. Below are some common treatment options;


Detoxification involves the removal of harmful substances in you body. As the name implies it involves the removalof toxins,ie impurities. The following are some methods of detoxiactin your body;

· Reduce the alcohol intake

· Ensure that you have adequate sleepa

  • Take less sugar and processed foods or eliminate them completely from your diet.
  • Have a healthy diet
  • Reduce your salt intake
  • Be physically active so that the body can eliminate toxins through sweat.

Seek therapy

Therapy may be meditation so that you may be conscious about your disorder. Meditation is not meant to be performed once but over a duration and for that reason meditation is referred to as ‘mental training’. Cognitive Behavorial Therapy (CBT) is a common kind of therapy meant to influence the client’s thoughts. Other therapies include involving a counselor so thatyou can open up to someone about your emotional and mental distress , if you can identify them. Your therapist can also guide you through the withdrawal process.


The main challenge that most drug and alcohol users face is the withdrawal symptoms which can be so bad that the client prefers to continue using the substance than quiting. Medication that will help you cope with the withdrawal symptoms do exist but it is imporatant to avoid self-meditation because the medication you choose may worsen your condition. It is always prudent that you seek the doctor’s opinion before using any medication. Do not hesitate to discuss with the doctor on the medications that you can use to cope with the withdrawal symptoms.


Addiction stigma is the shame associated with drug and alcohol addiction. When the drug and alcohol user is facing stigma from themselves or from others, it poses a challenge to them in seeking internvention. The addiction stigma persists in the military because there is zero-tolerance towards the drug user. The military shuns and forbids the use of drugs within or outside the military so long as you are in active service. The punishment that accdompanies drug addiction is a jail term and sometimes delisting. Drug use in the military is referred to as gorss-misconduct. Alcohol use is not forbidden in the military but alcohol addiction is not encouraged.

© 2022 Mary Florence

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