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Drug Use in the US Military

Drug abuse in the US military has been a problem since at least the Civil War, when thousands of Confederate and Union troops became addicted to the newly developed drug morphine. Since that time, the armed forces have alternately embraced and condemned drugs. In fact, during World War II, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, the DoD or Department of Defense issued millions of amphetamine pills to soldiers on many different fronts. (1) And if the Uniform Code of Military Justice’s detailed passages on drug restrictions and criminal consequences are any indicator, there is more to the military drug problem than the fact that the military itself is issuing its soldiers drugs.

Article 112a of the UCMJ states:

“Any person subject to this chapter who wrongfully uses, possesses, manufactures, distributes, imports into the customs territory of the United States, exports from the United States, or introduces into an installation, vessel, vehicle, or aircraft used by or under the control of the armed forces a substance described in subsection (b) shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.” (2)

The punishments that are meted out for violation of this article are often inconsistent – in some cases drug offenses committed by military members are quickly and quietly dealt with while in other cases military officials pursue the maximum punishment under the UCMJ. However, the use of amphetamines and other psychotropic drugs at the encouragement of the military seems to be a direct contradiction to this order, as if to say: “Drug use by military members is only permitted when deemed necessary by commanding officers.” While the situation of drug abuse in the US military is not as simple as this, it’s easy to see how the disparity could lead some to assume there is a double standard here.

According to a recent press release from the Pentagon that was disseminated and distributed by Fox News;

“. . . new questions are being raised about a U.S. Central Command policy that allows troops to go to Iraq and Afghanistan with up to a six-month supply of psychotropic drugs.” (3)

This is especially disturbing considering that psychotropic drug use can cause a host of dangerous problems and disorders including psychotic episodes, violence, anxiety and impulsivity. These side effects would normally be undesirable at a minimum, but in a military setting where users have access to guns and explosives it can be deadly. However, the high stress environment that most combat soldiers operate in often causes its own share of anxiety, paranoia, panic and violence. Attempts to curb these issues with the use of psychotropic drugs are confusing at best considering that soldiers who are issued these “6 month supplies” of psychotropics are then free to consume them unmonitored.

In addition to the fact that the military actively prescribes psychotropics and amphetamines as combat performance-enhancing drugs, many members of the military also struggle with addiction to illicit street drugs like heroin, crack, cocaine, ecstasy and meth. Service members often turn to drugs as a result of boredom, isolation, depression and pressure from other soldiers and sailors. In fact, many people see drugs and alcohol as a way of life in the military – especially those who were in the Navy prior to 1990. It’s only been in recent years that the military has significantly cracked down on illicit drug use, all the while prescribing similar drugs to soldiers in the field.

If your loved one served in the military and developed a drug problem, we can help. Call us now for a confidential, free consultation where we can guide you to get this person the right help – right now.

(1) Elliot Borin The US Military Needs its Speed January 19, 2011 Wired.com
(2) Uniform Code of Military Justice
(3) Fox News Concerns Raised About Combat Troops Using Psychotropic Drugs January 19, 2011

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More