Veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars are increasingly turning to alcohol when they return home to cope with the lingering stress of their combat experiences, sometimes with tragic consequences, the New York Times reported July 8.
“The problem in today’s military is soldiers have to be warriors, killers, do war, but we don’t allow them any releases like we used to,” said Bryan Lane, a former special forces sergeant who suffered a brain injury in Iraq and is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. “You can’t go out and drink, you can’t get into a fight. It’s completely unrealistic.”
Soldiers returning from Iraq, where drinking is officially banned, also may be more prone to overindulge when they return to the U.S., even though their tolerance for alcohol may be reduced due to enforced abstinence.
Drunk driving, bar fights, domestic violence and sometimes homicide are among the more serious consequences of rising rates of alcohol problems among veterans, prompting Congress in May to pass legislation to increase addiction screening for veterans coming home from combat zones.
“The war is now and the problems are now,” said Richard A. McCormick of Case Western Reserve University, who served on a Pentagon task force on mental health. “Every day there is a cohort of men and women being discharged who need services not one or two or five years from now. They need them now.”
The military has a shortage of addiction-treatment providers for active duty personnel, and reservists and their families often have difficulty getting access to care through the Tricare health plan.
Drinking also has long been a part of military tradition, though the services have tried to change that mentality and encourage personnel with drinking problems to seek help. “The Army takes alcohol and drug abuse very seriously and has tried for decades to deglamorize its use,” said spokesperson Lt. Col. George Wright. “With the urgency of this war, we continue to tackle the problem with education, prevention and treatment.”
The most recent post deployment surveys by the Pentagon show that 12 percent of active-duty soldiers and 15 percent of reservists acknowledge having problems with alcohol. Use of illicit drugs also is up slightly in the Army and Marines since 2002, and the problem may be worse among those who have left the service.