Captain Ioana Horotan, staff psychiatrist at Blanchfield Army Community, speaks with a soldier about substance use disorder in April 2021.

Captain Ioana Horotan, staff psychiatrist at Blanchfield Army Community, speaks with a soldier about substance use disorder in April 2021. (Fort Campbell Public Affairs Office)

Ever since the days when America was first established as an independent nation, our country has honored those who have dedicated their lives to defend our freedom. Special observations and holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day are filled with patriotic festivities to celebrate our active and retired military, veterans of war, and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Members of our military greatly deserve to be supported. But too often, service members and their families don’t receive the physical and mental health care they need. In particular, the stress inherent in military service can lead to difficulty in coping, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Many service members turn to alcohol, drugs and other substances to respond to those pressures.

Addiction among members of the military has long been an issue of concern and in fact came to be known as “the soldier’s disease.” Whether in war or peacetime, the burden of service takes a severe toll — not only on the soldier, but on their family as well. Yet many in the military, who dedicate their lives to serving and protecting others, refuse to reach out for help themselves.

Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are the most common substance use disorder (SUD) among the military. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey showed that 1 in 3 active service members reported binge drinking in the past month (defined as consuming five or more drinks on one occasion for men and four or more drinks for women at least once in the past 30 days), compared to 1 in 6 adults in the general population. The CDC also found that increased exposure to violence during combat may increase excessive alcohol use.

A 2018 U.S. Department of Defense flagship survey for understanding the health, health-related behaviors and well-being among the military found that 9.8% of active service members reported heavy drinking (defined as reporting binge drinking at least one day each week in the past 30 days). That compares with 8.9% of the U.S. adult population who were heavy drinkers, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

A culture of drinking makes avoiding alcohol difficult for many in the service. And when heavy drinking leads to AUD, stigmas associated with addiction — or asking for help at all — stand in the way of service members seeking treatment. The impact on the individual and their loved ones, friends and fellow soldiers can be devastating.

As the leader of Recovery Centers of America, a health care network of SUD treatment facilities on the East Coast and in the Midwest, I believe all those suffering from AUD and SUD and their families deserve the best care to help them sustain ongoing recovery. My philosophy is that each person must be treated with dignity and respect. They should have access to nearby professional care personalized to their needs. For active and retired military and their families, that means treatment that addresses the unique factors that lead to addiction while advocating for them in overcoming stigmas related to getting the help they need.

To meet the unique needs of active and retired military as well as their families, RCA offers dedicated programming, including our RESCU program. I’m also proud that RCA recently reached an agreement to become a Humana Military (Tricare) participating provider. Tricare offers health care services to more than 6 million active duty and retired military personnel and their families in the eastern U.S. With the partnership, RCA’s addiction treatment services are now available to Humana Military beneficiaries in any of the eight uniformed services: Army, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service, and the Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Many of us express our gratitude when we encounter service members in uniform as we go about our day. Yet thanking members of the military for their service must be more than lip service, especially for those who are struggling with AUD and SUD.

As we continue to honor the military and their families, we must speak out against the stigma of SUD and AUD and raise awareness about the availability of treatment. Seeking help for addiction is one of the most courageous acts anyone can do, but also one of the most difficult – even for the very bravest among us.

Brian O’Neill is CEO of Recovery Centers of America.

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