Active duty and retired members of the armed forces are not immune to the substance use problems that affect the rest of society. The stresses of deployment during wartime and the unique culture of the military account for some differences between substance use in military members and civilians. Zero-tolerance policies and stigma pose difficulties in identifying and treating substance use problems in military personnel, as does lack of confidentiality that deters many who need treatment from seeking it.
Those with multiple deployments, combat exposure, and related injuries are at greatest risk of developing substance use problems. They are more apt to engage in new-onset heavy weekly drinking and binge drinking, to suffer alcohol- and drug-related problems, and start smoking or relapse to smoking. Like civilians, they risk addiction to opioid pain medicines prescribed after an injury. NIDA continues to examine the trends in substance use in specific populations, including military personnel, and search for better methods for preventing and treating substance use disorders that are specific to these populations.
Service members, veterans, and their families who need help dealing with substance use issues may find the following resources helpful:
- Become a Smokefree Veteran: https://veterans.smokefree.gov/
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Treatment Programs for Substance Use Problems: http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/MENTALHEALTH/res-vatreatmentprograms.asp
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: National Center for PTSD: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/problems/ptsd_substance_abuse_veterans.asp
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Veterans and Military Families: https://www.samhsa.gov/veterans-military-families
- SAMHSA Treatment Locator: http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/ or 1-800-662-HELP
- Military Officers Association of America (MOAA): Veterans and Opioid Addiction
NIDA is currently funding studies in this area. Open the accordion below for links that will take you to the project descriptions in the NIH RePORT database. You can also find recent publications of NIDA-funded research in the PubMed database. In addition, there are many clinical trials currently open to military personnel and veterans. For more information, see our Clinical Trials page.
NIH multi-institute research initiatives:
NIDA Grantee Spotlight: Military Veterans and Smoking
- Management of Opioid Therapy (OT) for Chronic Pain (2017) - VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guidelines (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
- Annual Evaluation of the TRICARE Program (Health.mil)
- Alcohol and Substance Abuse Disorders (Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP)
- Pain: U.S. Military and Veterans (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, December 2016)
- Prevalence of Past Year Substance Use and Mental Illness by Veteran Status in a Nationally Representative Sample (PDF, 2MB) (SAMHSA, The CBHSQ Data Review, November 2016)
- Military Drug Take-Back Program offers safe drug disposal (Health.mil, September 2016)
- Veterans' Primary Substance of Abuse is Alcohol in Treatment Admissions (SAMHSA, The CBHSQ Report, November 10, 2015)
- 1 In 15 Veterans Had A Substance Use Disorder In The Past Year (SAMHSA, The CBHSQ Report, May 7, 2015)
- FDA and the Department of Defense: A Joint Force to Reduce Tobacco Use in the Military (FDA blog, September 2015)
Friends of NIDA 2013 Congressional Briefing
March 11, 2013: Washington, D.C. - Military Personnel, Veterans, and Their Families: How Substance Abuse Research is Effecting Positive Change, hosted by the Friends of NIDA in conjunction with the Congressional Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse.
VHA's Opioid Safety Initiative Toolkit
The VHA recognizes the clinical challenges to successfully managing pain and prescribing safely for our Veterans while implementing the Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI) Directive and the Informed Consent Directive. The National Pain Management Program office convened a national task force comprised of multidisciplinary pain exerts to create an OSI Toolkit (evidence-based to the extent possible) to help guide the field.
The resulting Toolkit contains documents and presentations that can aid in your clinical decisions about starting, continuing, or tapering opioid therapy, and other challenges related to safe opioid prescribing. We trust you will find these tools useful for your clinical teams caring for Veterans with chronic pain.
Opioid Safety Initiative Toolkit Materials
- Acute Pain Provider Guide - Acute Pain Management Opioid Safety VA Educational Guide (2017) (PDF, 4MB)
- Chronic Pain Provider Guide - Transforming the Treatment of Chronic Pain Moving Beyond OpioidsA VA Clinician’s Guide (2017) (PDF, 10MB)
- Pain Quick Reference Guide - Transforming the Treatment of Pain A Quick Reference Guide (2017) (PDF, 3MB)
- Effective Treatments for PTSD: Consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as First Line Treatment - for Clinicians (PDF, 302KB)
- PTSD Overview – for Patients (PDF, 181KB)
- Effective Treatments for PTSD: Helping Patients Taper from Benzodiazepines – for Clinicians (PDF, 275KB)
- Benzodiazepines Overview - for Patients (PDF, 175KB)
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Chronic Pain - Therapist Manual (PDF, 4MB)
- Consent Form for Long-Term Opioid Therapy for Pain (PDF, 1MB)
- TAKING OPIOIDS RESPONSIBLY - Patient Information Guide on Long-Term Opioid Therapy for Chronic Pain (PDF, 189KB)
If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact: Your VISN or facility Pain Point-of-Contact (POC) through, email Pamela Cremo.
- January 11, 2018 - About three in ten US veterans use tobacco products (CDC Press Release)
- September 20, 2017 - Federal agencies partner for military and veteran pain management research: Joint HHS-DoD-VA initiative will award multiple grants totaling $81 million (NCCIH Press Release)
- November 12, 2014 - Soldiers at Increased Suicide Risk After Leaving Hospital (NIMH Press release - Related link - Army STARRS
- September 25, 2014 - NIH and VA address pain and related conditions in U.S. military personnel, veterans, and their families
- August 26, 2010 - Studies on Combat Related Substance Use and Abuse to be Funded by NIH and VA
- MedlinePlus - Drug Use and Addiction - National Library of Medicine, NIH
- Above the Influence - Office of National Drug Control Policy
- Healthfinder.gov - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Past information is available on our Archives site.
Clinical trials are research studies in human volunteers conducted to answer specific health questions. Learn about the NIH-sponsored clinical trials available to you.
- NIDA Clinical Trial Locator - answer a few simple questions and get contact information for Clinical Trials near you.
Other Clinical Trials information sources:
- NIH Clinical Trials and You - NIH site that helps explain about clinical trials and why people participate.
- NIDA Trials at ClinicalTrials.gov - a resource of federally and privately supported clinical trials.
- Clinical Research Studies from the National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network (CTN) - a NIDA coordinated network of research institutions conducting human trials on drug use solutions.
- Research Studies at NIDA Intramural Research Program - located in Baltimore, Maryland.
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Fighting Pain in the U.S. Military and Veterans Infographic
Cite this article
NIDA. (2019, October 11). Military Life and Substance Use. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/military-life-substance-use