Substance Abuse in the Reserve and National Guard

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Last Updated - 06/30/2024

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Updated 06/30/2024

Key Takeaways

  • Reserve and National Guard members face unique challenges with substance misuse due to the transition between civilian life and military roles.
  • Integrated treatment approaches are needed to address co-occurring mental health disorders, such as PTSD, alongside SUDs.
  • Prevention and treatment strategies are essential, with initiatives like the Prevention, Treatment, and Outreach (PT&O) being piloted in the National Guard.
  • Substance misuse prevention initiatives focus on building prevention capacity and addressing local substance use concerns.
  • Policy recommendations include comprehensive education, expanded access to treatment, harm reduction strategies, and sufficient funding for substance misuse programs.

What Are Substance Abuse Challenges in the Reserve and National Guard?

The Reserve and National Guard components of the US military face unique challenges regarding substance misuse. While active duty personnel have access to consistent support structures and environments, those in the Reserve and National Guard often transition between civilian life and military roles, potentially exacerbating substance use issues. Studies have shown that substance misuse rates among these service members may be influenced by factors such as deployment, combat exposure, and the stress of reintegration into civilian life.

Substance Use 

  • Alcohol Use: Alcohol use is particularly prevalent, with a significant number of service members reporting heavy use.
  • Tobacco Products: Tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, are also commonly used, with a noted increase in tobacco use after enlisting.
  • Prescription Drug Misuse: Prescription drug misuse is another concern, especially opioids prescribed for pain management during medical discharge transitions.
  • Marijuana Use: Marijuana is the most frequently used illicit drug after leaving service.
  • Substance Use Disorders (SUDs): The prevalence of substance use disorders in this population is higher than in the general population, with more than 10% of military veterans diagnosed with an SUD.

Co-occurring Mental Health Disorders

Co-occurring mental health disorders, such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety, are common among those with SUDs, complicating treatment and recovery. The high rates of co-occurring PTSD and substance misuse highlight the need for integrated treatment approaches that address both issues concurrently.

Prevention Strategies and Resources

Despite the challenges, the military has implemented prevention strategies:

  • Smoking Cessation Programs: Programs and policies against tobacco use on installations.
  • Veterans Affairs Resources: Resources to assist with substance misuse and mental health disorders.

Substance Abuse Prevalence: The Reserve and National Guard

The Reserve and National Guard, as integral components of the US military, face unique challenges related to substance misuse. Studies indicate significant rates of substance use disorders, often linked to the stresses of military life, including deployment and reintegration into civilian life.

  • Drinking Culture: A 2018 Health Related Behaviors Survey revealed that approximately 20.2% of reservists acknowledge a drinking culture within the military.
  • Tobacco Use: Tobacco use is prevalent, with 45.5% of current smokers in the Reserve attempting to quit in the past year.
  • Mental Health Problems: Reserve and National Guard members report higher rates of mental health problems and treatment needs for PTSD, depression, and substance misuse than their active-duty counterparts.
  • Non-deployment Emotions (NDE): Associated with hazardous drinking among US Army Reserve/National Guard (USAR/NG) soldiers.
  • Stigma: Despite higher rates of substance misuse, there are often low rates of referral to SUD treatment services due to high levels of stigma.

Substance Abuse Trends

The Reserve and National Guard components of the US military face unique substance misuse challenges compared to their active-duty counterparts.

Alcohol Misuse

  • Prevalence: Alcohol is the most commonly documented substance for misuse and dependence among Active Duty Soldiers.
  • Social Influence: Presence of ‘drinking buddies’ and heavy drinkers in social networks increases the risk of alcohol misuse.
  • Military Culture: Military culture supports drinking habits among reservists.

Tobacco and Nicotine Product Usage

  • Prevalence: Cigarette and e-cigarette use is prevalent.
  • Efforts to Quit: Nearly half of the current smokers within the Reserve Component have attempted to quit.

Deployment Impact

  • Higher Rates of Heavy Drinking: Deployment of Army National Guard soldiers is associated with higher rates of heavy drinking compared to non-deployed members.

Effects of Substance Abuse: The Reserve and National Guard Personnel

Substance misuse within the Reserve and National Guard significantly undermines military readiness, mental health, and overall effectiveness. The unique challenges faced by these service members, such as higher incidences of PTSD, combat trauma, and chronic pain compared to the civilian population, contribute to a greater need for specialized substance misuse treatment programs.


  • Suicide Rate: Higher suicide rate within the National Guard compared to other branches.
  • Exacerbation of Mental Health Issues: Substance misuse can exacerbate mental health issues, leading to co-occurring disorders which complicate treatment and recovery efforts.

Preventive Measures and Treatment Programs

  • Suicide Prevention and Readiness Initiative: Focuses on identifying risk factors and providing effective intervention techniques.
  • Veterans Affairs (VA): Provides assistance to veterans from all military branches to combat substance misuse post-military service.

Providing targeted support and resources for these service members is essential to maintain the strength and readiness of the Reserve and National Guard forces.

Prevention and Treatment Strategies: Substance Abuse in the Reserve and National Guard

Substance misuse within the Reserve and National Guard is a critical issue that impacts military readiness and the well-being of service members. Prevention and treatment programs are essential in addressing this concern.

Department of Defense Initiatives

  • Prevention, Treatment, and Outreach (PT&O): This initiative is being piloted in 12 states to enhance substance misuse prevention efforts through stronger partnerships and leadership within the National Guard.
  • Military Medical Treatment Facility Management: Implements processes for self-initiated referrals for mental health evaluations of service members, aimed at decreasing substance misuse.

Resources and Support

  • Military OneSource: Provides non-medical counseling, consultations, and extensive substance misuse resources to support mission readiness and enhance quality of life for the military community.
  • Veterans Affairs (VA): Offers numerous programs to assist veterans from all branches, including the Reserve and National Guard, with substance use disorders (SUDs) and co-occurring mental health conditions.

Preventive Measures

  • Mandatory Random Drug Testing: Implemented to deter substance misuse, with potential consequences including discharge or criminal charges for illicit substance use.
  • Behavioral Health Care: Targeted to address unique challenges faced by military members, such as PTSD, combat trauma, and chronic pain, which are more prevalent in military populations.

Substance Abuse Prevention Initiatives 

The Reserve and National Guard have recognized the critical need for substance misuse prevention among their ranks and are actively implementing strategies to address this issue.

  • National Guard Substance Abuse Prevention Program: Introduces the PT&O initiative, piloted in 12 states, to strengthen prevention efforts and leadership within the post-9/11 military context.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Offers funding opportunities for grants aimed at preventing substance misuse and treating SUDs nationwide, potentially supporting Reserve and National Guard efforts.
  • SAMHSA’s Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF): Focuses on building prevention capacity to address local substance use concerns, leveraging public health data to identify community priorities and support prevention efforts.

Substance Abuse Treatment Programs

The Reserve and National Guard have implemented proactive measures to address substance misuse within their ranks, tailored to the unique stressors faced by service members.

  • Specialized Programs: Developed to cater to specific needs, aiming to mitigate substance misuse’s adverse effects on performance and reduce financial burdens.
  • Legislative Support: Allocation of funding for military pay raises and end strength numbers to enhance overall well-being and readiness, including provisions for the Army National Guard (ARNG) and Air National Guard (ANG).

These initiatives underscore the commitment to promoting mental health, preventing substance misuse, and providing equitable access to treatment and support for Reserve and National Guard service members.

Policy Recommendations: Addressing Substance Abuse in the Reserve and National Guard

Addressing substance misuse within the Reserve and National Guard requires a multifaceted approach that considers the unique challenges faced by service members. Based on the information presented, the following policy recommendations aim to enhance prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts:

Education and Prevention Programs

  • Tailored Programs: Implement comprehensive substance misuse education programs specifically designed for the Reserve and National Guard, emphasizing the risks associated with substance use and its impact on military readiness.

Treatment Access

  • Evidence-Based Treatment: Expand access to evidence-based treatment programs that cater to the specific needs of service members, including those with co-occurring disorders such as PTSD and chronic pain.

Harm Reduction Strategies

  • Naloxone Availability: Implement harm reduction strategies by making naloxone widely available and providing training on its use to reduce the risk of overdose and other negative outcomes associated with substance misuse.

Recovery Support

  • Peer Support: Enhance recovery support through peer support programs aimed at helping service members maintain sobriety and successfully reintegrate into duty or civilian life.

Family Involvement

  • Intervention Strategies: Involve family members in intervention strategies, recognizing their crucial role in the recovery process, and providing them with necessary resources and support.

Integrated Care

  • Comprehensive Healthcare: Ensure continuity of care by maintaining a comprehensive and integrated model of care within the military healthcare system, reducing the need for service members to seek services at multiple facilities.

Funding Allocation

  • Resource Allocation: Allocate sufficient funding to the National Guard and Reserve components for substance misuse programs, including initiatives like the National Guard Counterdrug Program, to ensure adequate resources for prevention and treatment.

These policy recommendations aim to create a supportive environment that addresses the complexities of substance misuse within the military community, ultimately enhancing the well-being of service members and their families.

Substance Use Disorder Treatment at The Recovery Village Palmer Lake

There are quite a few different options for people who are seeking treatment for drug & alcohol addiction. Your individualized treatment plan at The Recovery Village Palmer Lake may include:

  • Medical detox: Patients detox from substances in a clinical environment where doctors monitor health and provide medications to ease withdrawal symptoms.
  • Inpatient treatment: Patients in inpatient treatment live at our facility and attend a full schedule of individual and group therapy, counseling and peer support sessions.
  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP): PHPs provide patients with additional flexibility and independence than inpatient programs.
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP): IOPs help patients transition to life outside of rehab, with fewer hours of care and more time building skills and habits for recovery.
  • Outpatient treatment: Outpatient care provides ongoing treatment after an inpatient stay and supports patients as they transition back into their daily lives.
  • Aftercare: Aftercare programs help support long-term recovery through clinical and medical recommendations for follow-up care, relapse prevention plans and more.

If you or someone you love is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, help is available. The Recovery Village Palmer Lake is here to support you throughout the entire recovery process. It’s time to get your life back. Call our Recovery Advocates today.


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