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Military Culture and Substance Use:
Understanding the Challenges and Providing Effective Support

Learn more about the connection between military culture and substance use at New Choices Treatment Center.


Comprehensive Support for Veterans in San Antonio, TX

San Antonio, Texas, is a city with a strong military presence. There are approximately 250,000 veterans and 80,000 active-duty personnel who call it home.
As a hub for service members and civilians alike, it is crucial to understand the unique challenges and pressures faced by military personnel. This is particularly true when it comes to substance use.
New Choices Treatment Center (NCTC) is located in the heart of San Antonio. We recognize the importance of addressing the intersection of military culture and substance use. We’re committed to providing effective prevention, intervention, and recovery strategies tailored to the needs of veterans and their loved ones.
Military Culture and Substance Use

Understanding Military Culture and Substance Use

The unique pressures and demands of military life can create a perfect storm for substance use issues to develop. It is important for providers to understand these factors in order to provide the highest level of care.1
Military life is characterized by a high-stress environment. Service members often face intense pressures and demands. Deployment experiences, combat trauma, and the constant need to maintain readiness can take a significant toll on a person’s mental and emotional well-being.
These stressors can contribute to an increased risk of substance use among service members, as they may turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the challenges they face.

Stressors and Challenges

Common challenges that contribute to the connection between military culture and substance use include:
  • Extended periods of separation from family and loved ones
  • Exposure to life-threatening situations and traumatic events
  • Difficulty adjusting to civilian life after deployment
  • Physical and emotional exhaustion from demanding training and missions
  • Pressure to maintain peak performance and readiness at all times

Norms and Attitudes

Military culture often fosters a sense of camaraderie and shared experience. This can influence attitudes and behaviors surrounding military culture and substance use.
Peer influence and the desire to fit in with one’s unit can lead some service members to engage in excessive drinking or drug use, even if they would not do so in other settings.
The stigma associated with seeking help for substance use disorders can also prevent people from accessing the support they need. They may fear being perceived as weak or unfit for duty.

Common Norms and Attitudes

Some examples of cultural norms and attitudes that can impact military culture and substance use include:
  • A “work hard, play hard” mentality that normalizes heavy drinking during off-duty hours
  • A belief that seeking help for mental health or substance use issues is a sign of weakness
  • A reluctance to report substance use concerns due to fear of disciplinary action or negative career consequences
  • A culture of silence surrounding the struggles faced by service members, making it difficult to openly discuss substance use and its impact

Military Culture and Substance Use: Co-Occurring Mental Health Issues

Military personnel are at an increased risk of developing mental health conditions such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety. These conditions can often co-occur with substance use disorders.2
The traumatic experiences and high-stress environment of military life can contribute to the development of these conditions. People may turn to substances as a way to self-medicate or cope with their symptoms.

Key Points

Some key points regarding co-occurring mental health issues and substance use in the military include:
  • PTSD is a common condition among combat veterans, and people with PTSD are at a higher risk of developing substance use disorders.3
  • Depression and anxiety can also be prevalent among service members. These conditions can lead to increased alcohol or drug use for self-medication.4
  • Substance use can worsen the symptoms of mental health conditions. This creates a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break without proper treatment and support.5

Military Culture and Substance Use: Prevention and Intervention Strategies

Addressing the connection between military culture and substance use requires a multi-faceted approach.
This approach encompasses:6
  • Prevention
  • Early intervention
  • Ongoing support
At New Choices Treatment Center, we understand the importance of proactive measures in promoting a healthy military culture and reducing the risks associated with substance use.
We do this through:

Education and Training

Providing comprehensive education and training is essential for promoting a healthy military culture.
This includes topics like:
  • Substance use risks
  • Prevention strategies
  • Resilience-building techniques
By equipping service members and command leaders with the knowledge and skills needed to identify and address substance use concerns, we can foster a proactive approach to prevention and early intervention.

Components of Effective Educational and Training Programs

Some key components of effective education and training programs include:
  • Substance use awareness training that covers the risks, signs, and consequences of problematic alcohol and drug use
  • Resilience training that teaches coping skills, stress management techniques, and healthy ways to deal with the challenges of military life
  • Leadership training that empowers command leaders to create a supportive and proactive environment for addressing military culture and substance use 
  • Stigma reduction efforts that encourage open communication and help-seeking behaviors among service members

Early Intervention Programs

Implementing early intervention programs can help identify and address substance use concerns before they escalate into more severe problems. These programs include Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT).7
By routinely screening service members for substance use and providing brief interventions and referrals as needed, providers can ensure that people receive the support they need in a timely manner.

Benefits of Early Intervention in Addressing Military Culture and Substance Use

Some benefits of early intervention programs include:
  • Early identification of substance use concerns, allowing for prompt intervention and treatment
  • Reduced stigma associated with seeking help, as screening becomes a routine part of military healthcare
  • Increased access to support services and resources for service members who may be struggling with substance use
  •  Improved health and readiness of military personnel, as substance use concerns are addressed proactively

Peer Support and Mentorship for Addressing Military Culture and Substance Use

Establishing strong support can be a powerful way to encourage accountability and foster supportive relationships among service members.
This includes:
  • Peer support networks
  • Mentorship programs
  • Buddy systems
By connecting people with similar challenges and experiences, we can create a sense of community and belonging that can be crucial for maintaining sobriety and promoting long-term recovery.

Examples of Effective Peer Support

Some examples of effective peer support and mentorship initiatives include:
  • Peer-led support groups that provide a safe space for service members to share their experiences and support one another in their recovery journeys
  • Mentorship programs that pair experienced service members with those who are newer to the military or struggling with substance use, providing guidance and support
  • Buddy systems that encourage service members to look out for one another and intervene when they notice signs of substance use or mental health concerns
  • Veteran-to-veteran support programs that connect service members with veterans who have successfully navigated the challenges of military life and substance use recovery

Military Culture and Substance Use: Treatment and Recovery Approaches

At New Choices Treatment Center, we recognize that effective treatment and recovery for military personnel requires a comprehensive, culturally competent approach. This approach addresses the unique relationship between military culture and substance use.
Our compassionate, family-oriented team is committed to providing honest, reliable, and supportive care. This empowers people to overcome substance use disorders and build a strong foundation for lasting recovery.
We aim to create a safe and nurturing space where service members can heal, grow, and thrive through:
  • Evidence-based therapies
  • Holistic support services
  • A trauma-informed environment

Culturally-Competent Care

Providing culturally-competent care is essential for addressing the connection between military culture and substance use.
By acknowledging the unique experiences, values, and needs of service members, treatment providers can create a more welcoming and supportive environment. This environment encourages engagement and promotes successful outcomes.

Components of Culturally-Competent Care

Some key aspects of culturally-competent care for military personnel include:
  • Understanding the unique stressors and challenges faced by service members, such as deployment experiences and combat trauma
  • Recognizing the impact of military culture and substance use in terms of help-seeking
  • Incorporating military-specific language, concepts, and values into treatment approaches to enhance relatability and trust
  • Collaborating with military leadership and support systems to ensure a comprehensive and coordinated approach to care

Evidence-Based Therapies

Evidence-based therapies can be highly effective in addressing substance use and co-occurring disorders among military personnel. This includes methods like active in recovery (AIR) programs, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and trauma-informed care.
These therapies focus on helping people:
  • Develop coping skills
  • Regulate emotions
  • Process traumatic experiences in a healthy and productive manner

How Evidence-Based Methods Address Military Culture and Substance Use

Some specific applications of evidence-based therapies for military personnel include:
  • Active in Recovery (AIR) programs that combine intense physical exercise with evidence-based therapies to promote neuroregeneration, reduce substance dependence, and improve overall mental health and well-being
  • CBT techniques that help people identify and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviors related to substance use
  • DBT skills training that teaches mindfulness, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness to improve emotional regulation and reduce impulsive behaviors
  • Trauma-informed care approaches that recognize the impact of trauma on a person’s life and provide a safe and supportive environment for healing and recovery
  • Exposure-based therapies, such as prolonged exposure (PE) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT), help people process and overcome traumatic experiences related to military service

Holistic Support Services Addressing Military Culture and Substance Use

Providing comprehensive care that addresses the physical, emotional, and social needs of military personnel is crucial for promoting long-term recovery and well-being.
By offering a range of holistic support services, treatment providers can ensure that clients receive the multi-faceted care they need to achieve and maintain sobriety.

Examples of Holistic Treatment Options

Some examples of holistic support services that can benefit military personnel in recovery include:
  • Counseling and therapy services that address co-occurring mental health conditions and provide emotional support throughout the recovery process
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) options that help manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings, increasing the likelihood of successful recovery
  • Peer support groups and recovery communities that provide a sense of belonging and shared experience, helping people maintain motivation and accountability in their recovery
  • Family therapy and support services that help rebuild and strengthen relationships impacted by substance use and military service
  • Vocational and educational support that helps people transition back to civilian life and pursue meaningful career and personal goals
Military Culture and Substance Use

Our Role in Supporting Military Personnel

At NCTC, we understand the unique challenges faced by military personnel when it comes to substance use and mental health. We are a compassionate, family-oriented treatment center located in the heart of San Antonio.
We are committed to providing honest, reliable, and supportive care tailored to the specific needs of service members.

Veteran-Centered Care

We understand the unique challenges faced by military personnel. Because of this, we’re committed to providing tailored treatment plans and services that meet their specific needs and experiences.
Many of our addiction specialists are veterans themselves. They can relate to the concerns of service members and provide a level of understanding and empathy that is essential for building trust and promoting successful outcomes.

Accessible Resources

New Choices Treatment Center is committed to connecting military personnel with community resources, support groups, and services that can enhance their recovery and reintegration efforts.
By working with local organizations and leveraging our network of resources, we aim to provide a seamless continuum of care that supports veterans throughout their journey to long-term sobriety and well-being.

Honoring Service and Sacrifice

Military personnel face unique challenges and pressures when it comes to substance use. It is our duty as a society to recognize and address these issues with:
  • Compassion
  • Understanding
  • Effective support
By acknowledging the sacrifices made by service members and providing culturally competent care that meets their specific needs, we can help veterans overcome substance use disorders and achieve lasting recovery.

Contact New Choices Treatment Center Today

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use and seeking support, NCTC is here to help. Our dedicated team of professionals is committed to providing the highest quality care and support to military personnel and their families.
To learn more about our services or to take the first step in your recovery journey, please contact us today at (726) 888-7003 or reach out online. Together, we can honor your service and help you build a brighter, healthier future.