A Department of Defense (DOD) report has revealed that binge drinking and other substance abuse by active duty military has become a public health crisis.
The report found that preventative measures were out of date and there were far too many barriers to care that stop military personnel from seeking treatment. This has led to an increase in prescription drug addiction and a dramatic rise in alcohol abuse.
"We commend the steps that the Department of Defense and individual service branches have recently taken to improve prevention and care for substance use disorders, but the armed forces face many ongoing challenges," said Charles P. O'Brien, Kenneth Appel Professor and vice chair, department of psychiatry, and director, Center for Studies of Addiction, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. "Better care for service members and their families is hampered by inadequate prevention strategies, staffing shortages, lack of coverage for services that are proved to work, and stigma associated with these disorders. This report recommends solutions to address each of these concerns."
In the last military census, 20% of active duty personnel said they took part in heavy drinking. The same research found that there was a 12% increase in binge drinking. between 1998 and 2008. Prescription abuse is also on the rise. The DOD found that between 2002 and 2008, there was a 9% increase in prescription drug addiction. The committee found that this was due in part to military policies that are out dated or static and unable to address the real world problems faced by todays military.
Some of the most glaring problems found by the report include a lack of evidenced based treatments, bans on long term use of medications used to treat addiction and only allows treatment in certain outpatient settings.
To help solve these problems the comity has recommended the armed forces tackle underage drinking, reduce the number of places to buy alcohol on base and routinely screen personnel for excessive alcohol abuse. The suggestion was also made to provide primary care for problem drinkers in a bid to reduce the stigma associated with seeking help.
In a statement, the comity has said “Military health care professionals at all levels need training in recognizing patterns of substance abuse and misuse and clear guidelines for referring patients to specialists such as pain management experts and mental health providers. Team care by a range of providers not only is a more effective approach but also would help alleviate the provider shortage created by the military's sole reliance on specialty substance abuse clinics to provide care, the committee concluded. “
Currently, the different branches of the military have said they are looking at ways to implement these changes and making their own individual changes to help combat problem drinking.