Military needs to do more to combat substance abuse: report

September 19, 2012

Washington – Substance abuse among service members and their families should be considered a “public health crisis,” and the Department of Defense is using outdated approaches to fight it, concludes a report released Sept. 17 from the Institute of Medicine.

Approximately 20 percent of active-duty personnel reported heavy drinking in 2008, and binge drinking increased to 47 percent in 2008 from 35 percent in 1998, according to the report. Prescription drug misuse also appears to be on the rise.

The military’s strategies have not kept up with the problem, the report stated. IOM cited several barriers, including lack of health care coverage for proven therapies, stigma associated with seeking treatment and staffing shortages.

The report recommends adhering to evidence-based strategies for prevention, revising health care benefits to cover more therapies, enforcing regulations on underage drinking, reducing the number of alcohol outlets on bases, conducting routine screenings and providing counseling at the sign of risky behavior.

Better efforts also could improve detection of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts, which often coincide with substance abuse, the report stated.