Substance Abuse in the Reserve and National Guard

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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.

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.

Alcohol use is particularly prevalent, with a significant number of service members reporting heavy use. Tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, are also commonly used, and there’s a noted increase in tobacco use after enlisting. Prescription drug misuse is another concern, especially opioids prescribed for pain management during medical discharge transitions. Marijuana is the most frequently used illicit drug after leaving service. The prevalence of substance use disorders (SUDs) 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, 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. Despite the challenges, the military has implemented prevention strategies, such as smoking cessation programs and policies against tobacco use on installations. It provides resources through the Veterans Affairs to assist with substance misuse and mental health disorders.

Substance Abuse Prevalence in 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 that Reserve and National Guard personnel exhibit significant rates of substance use disorders (SUDs), often linked to the stresses of military life, including deployment and reintegration into civilian life. A 2018 Health Related Behaviors Survey revealed that approximately 20.2% of reservists acknowledge the presence of a drinking culture within the military, which may contribute to substance use. Furthermore, tobacco use, a preventable cause of disease and death, is prevalent, with 45.5% of current smokers in the Reserve attempting to quit in the past year.

Reserve and National Guard members report higher rates of mental health problems and treatment needs for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance misuse than their active-duty counterparts. The co-occurrence of PTSD and substance use disorders is well-established, particularly among veterans recently deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. Non-deployment emotions (NDE) are also associated with hazardous drinking among US Army Reserve/National Guard (USAR/NG) soldiers. It’s important to note that despite higher rates of substance misuse, there are often low rates of referral to SUD treatment services attributed to high levels of stigma.

Addressing these issues, the FY24 National Defense Appropriations Bill has allocated $312 million for the Army National Guard (ARNG) and $305 million for the Air National Guard (ANG) in the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Appropriation (NGREA), signifying a recognition of the need for resources to combat these challenges.

Substance Abuse Trends in the Reserve and National Guard

The Reserve and National Guard components of the US military face unique substance misuse challenges compared to their active-duty counterparts. Alcohol misuse is a significant concern, with alcohol being the most commonly documented substance for misuse and dependence among Active Duty Soldiers and influencing behaviors among Reserve/National Guard Soldiers based on social circles. The presence of ‘drinking buddies’ and people who drink heavily in an individual’s social network can increase the risk of alcohol misuse. Notably, a study from 2016-2019 highlighted the role of military culture in supporting drinking habits among reservists.

Tobacco and nicotine product usage also poses a considerable health risk, with cigarette and e-cigarette use prevalent in this population. Efforts to quit smoking have been reported by nearly half of the current smokers within the Reserve Component. Furthermore, the deployment of Army National Guard soldiers has been associated with higher rates of heavy drinking compared to non-deployed members, suggesting that the stress and emotional impact of combat may contribute to increased alcohol consumption. This underscores the need for targeted screening and psychological health care upon their return to civilian life.

Overall, these findings emphasize the importance of addressing substance misuse within the Reserve and National Guard, considering the cultural and environmental factors that may influence such behaviors, and ensuring access to comprehensive care and support systems for service members.

Effects of Substance Abuse on 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. 

Research indicates that substance misuse, including the non-medical use of prescription drugs and alcohol misuse, is prevalent among Reserve and National Guard personnel. This prevalence can have dire consequences, including a higher suicide rate within the National Guard compared to other branches. Moreover, substance misuse can exacerbate mental health issues, leading to co-occurring disorders, which complicate treatment and recovery efforts.

Preventive measures and treatment programs are critical for addressing substance misuse in these branches. The Suicide Prevention and Readiness Initiative for the National Guard is one such effort that focuses on identifying risk factors and providing effective intervention techniques. Additionally, the Veterans Affairs (VA) assists veterans from all military branches, including the Reserve and National Guard, to combat the rise in substance misuse post-military service.

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

Prevention and Treatment Strategies for 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. The Department of Defense has implemented a comprehensive approach, including the Prevention, Treatment, and Outreach (PT&O) initiative, which is being piloted in 12 states. This initiative aims to amplify substance misuse prevention efforts through stronger partnerships and leadership within the National Guard.

The Military Health System (MHS) has also been proactive in decreasing substance misuse numbers, with policies like the Military Medical Treatment Facility Management of Self-Initiated Referral Process for Mental Health Evaluations of Service Members. 

Resources such as Military OneSource offer support for mission readiness and enhance the quality of life for the military community by providing access to non-medical counseling, consultations, and a plethora of substance misuse resources. Additionally, the Veterans Affairs (VA) has 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.

It is important to note the preventive aspect of these programs, which includes mandatory random drug testing and the potential consequences of discharge or criminal charges for illicit substance use. These measures, along with targeted behavioral health care, are designed to address the unique challenges faced by military members, including PTSD, combat trauma, and chronic pain, which are more prevalent among military populations than civilians.

Substance Abuse Prevention Initiatives in the Reserve and National Guard

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. The National Guard Substance Abuse Prevention Program has introduced a new Department of Defense initiative called Prevention, Treatment, and Outreach (PT&O), currently being piloted in 12 states. This program aims to enhance prevention efforts by fostering stronger partnerships and leadership within the post-9/11 military context. Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has announced funding opportunities for grants aimed at preventing substance misuse and treating substance use disorder (SUD) nationwide, which could support the efforts of the Reserve and National Guard.

Furthermore, SAMHSA’s Strategic Prevention Framework-Partnerships for Success (SPF-PFS) focuses on building prevention capacity to address local substance use concerns, including underage drinking and the use of marijuana, tobacco, electronic cigarettes, opioids, methamphetamine, and heroin. These initiatives leverage local, state, and national public health data to identify community prevention priorities, which could be instrumental for the Reserve and National Guard populations. Through such programs, there is a concerted effort to promote mental health, prevent substance misuse, and provide treatment and support to ensure equitable access and better outcomes for service members.

Substance Abuse Treatment Programs for Reserve and National Guard Members

The Reserve and National Guard have taken proactive steps to address substance misuse within their ranks. Recognizing the unique stressors service members face, these military branches have developed specialized programs catering to their specific needs. For instance, the National Guard is currently expanding its prevention efforts through a pilot program in 12 states, aiming to mitigate substance misuse’s adverse effects on performance and reduce the financial burden on taxpayers. Substance misuse not only compromises job performance but also endangers service members and results in costly resource expenditures.

On the legislative front, funding has been allocated to support military pay raises and end strength numbers, which indirectly contribute to service members’ overall well-being and readiness, including those in the Reserve and National Guard. For example, the FY24 House Defense Appropriations Summary includes funds for a 5.2% military pay raise and end strength of 325,000 for the Army National Guard (ARNG) and 108,400 for the Air National Guard (ANG).

Policy Recommendations for 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:

  • Implement comprehensive substance misuse education and prevention programs tailored to the Reserve and National Guard, focusing on the risks associated with substance use and the impact on military readiness.
  • Expand access to evidence-based treatment programs that address the specific needs of service members, including those with co-occurring disorders such as PTSD and chronic pain.
  • Invest in harm reduction strategies, such as making naloxone widely available and offering training on its use, to reduce the risk of overdose and other negative outcomes associated with substance misuse.
  • Enhance recovery support, including peer support programs and reintegration services, to help service members maintain sobriety and return to duty or transition to civilian life.
  • Involve family members in intervention strategies, recognizing their critical role in the recovery process and providing them with the necessary resources and support.
  • 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.
  • Allocate sufficient funding to the National Guard and Reserve components for substance misuse programs, including the National Guard Counterdrug Program, to ensure adequate resources for prevention and treatment initiatives.

These 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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