Children with Military Parents at Higher Risk of Addiction

Eddie spent most of his upbringing without a father. He had one who wanted to be in his life, but was sent to fight overseas with the U.S. Army on three separate occasions.

When his father returned from his last tour when he was 15, the PTSD he suffered from what he witnessed in combat led to a major substance problem. The instability in his home eventually led Eddie to use alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Unfortunately, stories like these aren’t uncommon among children of military parents.

Drug Abuse and Military Children

A recent article published in JAMA Pediatrics revealed the findings from data collected on the subject of 2013. Led by Kathrine Sullivan, M.S.W., of the University Of Southern California School Of Social Work, her team pooled through data d 54,679 military-connected and 634,034 nonmilitary-connected secondary school students from public civilian schools in every county in California and almost every district in the state.

They found that 45.2 percent of military-connected youth reported lifetime alcohol use, compared to 39.2 percent of their non-military peers. The children of military parents also had higher rates of drug use (11.9 percent vs. 7.3 percent) smoking cigarettes in the last month (12.2 percent vs. 8.4 percent) and incidents of violence (62.5 percent vs. 51.6 percent) than non-military peers.

“Further efforts are needed to promote resilience among military children who are struggling,” conclude the authors. “More efforts in social contexts, including civilian schools and communities, to support military families during times of war are likely needed.”

Rates of Drug and Alcohol Abuse

The higher rates of drug and alcohol use among children of military parents may not be surprising since their parents often struggle with substance abuse themselves. Data from the Pentagon shows that the number of pain medication prescriptions written by military doctors has quadrupled in recent years, from 866,773 in 2001 to 3.8 million in 2009. In addition, the overdose death rate of veterans is 33 percent higher than that of the national average. The Army Suicide Prevention Task Force reported that alcohol or drugs were a factor in 29 percent of active duty Army suicides between 2005 and 2009.

In families where substance abuse is an issue among more than one member, the recovery process should be a group effort. Consider attending Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings together. If you can afford it, seeing a family counselor can also be beneficial in addressing the underlying issues that trigger the substance abuse.

Additional Reading: The “R” Word: 5 Relapse Triggers Facing Teens in Recovery

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