Military Life and Substance Use

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 in substance use between military members and civilians. Those with multiple deployments, combat exposure, and related injuries are at greatest risk of developing substance use problems. NIDA continues to examine the trends in substance use in specific populations, including military personnel, and to search for better methods for preventing and treating substance use disorders that are specific to these populations. Learn more in the DrugFacts: Substance Use and Military Life.

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NIH Multi-Institute Research Initiatives

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 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 is currently funding studies in this area. The links below 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: 

Related Resources

Service members, veterans, and their families who need help dealing with substance use issues may find the following resources helpful:

    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 comprising 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. You may find these tools useful for your clinical teams caring for veterans with chronic pain.

    Opioid Safety Initiative Toolkit Materials

    If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact: Your VISN or facility Pain Point-of-Contact (POC) through, email Pamela Cremo.

    Other Resources

    Clinical Trials

    Clinical trials are research studies in human volunteers conducted to answer specific health questions. Learn about the NIH-sponsored clinical trials available to you.