Risk for Substance Abuse is Higher in Military Kids

Risk for Substance Abuse is Higher in Military Kids

Discover why the risk for substance abuse is higher in military kids and explore effective interventions.

Substance Abuse in Military Families

Examining the realm of military families, it is important to understand the consequences of higher substance abuse risk, especially on children. These families often face unique challenges that contribute to elevated risks of substance abuse.

Impact on Children

Children of military families are particularly affected by the consequences of substance abuse. Based on a study cited by PubMed, the rates of alcohol use, binge drinking, marijuana use, other illegal drug use, and prescription drug misuse are considerably higher in children of currently or recently deployed parents compared to their counterparts from non-military families. These effects persist across different age groups, including 6th, 8th, and 11th graders.

The impact on children extends beyond substance use. Studies have shown that mental and behavioral health visits increased by 11% in children aged 3 to 8 years when a military parent was deployed. Behavioral disorders increased by 19% and stress disorders increased by 18% [1]. Furthermore, children whose parents were deployed for more than 11 months had the highest increase in mental health cases, with the most pronounced effects relating to acute stress disorder, adjustment disorders, behavioral disorders, and depression.

Risk Factors

The risk for substance abuse is higher in military kids due to a combination of factors, many of which are unique to military life. One of the key risk factors is disrupted living arrangements. According to PubMed, children with a deployed parent who was not living with a parent or relative had a significantly increased likelihood of substance use.

Additionally, the stress of having a parent deployed for extended periods can lead to an increase in behavioral and mental health issues. A study by the Canadian Paediatric Society revealed that preschool children (3 to 5 years of age) affected by current wartime deployments exhibited higher levels of emotional reactivity, anxiousness or depression, somatic complaints, sleep difficulties, and withdrawal than in children whose parents were not deployed.

Understanding these risk factors can help in formulating effective prevention strategies and support programs for military children, thereby reducing the incidence of substance abuse and its associated impacts.

Substance Use Statistics

The risk for substance abuse is higher in military kids, as evidenced by various studies and research. This section will delve into the specifics of alcohol and drug use and mental health disorders in children of military families.

Alcohol and Drug Use

Children of currently or recently deployed parents in the military have higher rates of substance use than their counterparts from non-military families. This includes increased rates of alcohol use, binge drinking, marijuana use, other illegal drug use, and prescription drug misuse. The effects are consistent across different grades (6th, 8th, and 11th). Disrupted living arrangements further increase the likelihood of substance use, with a significant effect observed in children with a deployed parent who is not living with a parent or relative [2].

Below is a summary of the substance use rates among military kids:

Mental Health Disorders

In addition to increased substance use, children of military families also face an increased risk of mental health disorders. In fact, the risk for developing a mental health disorder is directly linked to the duration and frequency of their parent's deployment.

Furthermore, it was found that veterans in the US military have a longer duration of addiction (average 21.9 years) compared to non-veterans (average 17.75 years). They also initiate recovery at an older age (average 42.5 years) compared to non-veterans (average 35.4 years). However, veterans in recovery report significant improvements in functioning across various domains, including finances, family, health, legal matters, and employment [3].

These statistics highlight the urgent need for support systems and interventions designed specifically for military families to address the increased risk of substance abuse and mental health disorders. Understanding these statistics is the first step in developing effective prevention strategies and community resources to help these children and their families.

Effects on Children's Behavior

The risk for substance abuse being higher in military kids is not just a standalone issue. It is an outcome of a complex interplay of factors, and it further results in a myriad of psychological and behavioral consequences.

Psychological Impact

The psychological impact on children in military families, especially those where a parent has been deployed, is evident in a number of studies. The Canadian Paediatric Society reports that mental and behavioral health visits increased by 11% in children aged 3 to 8 when a military parent was deployed. Specifically, behavioral disorders increased by 19% and stress disorders increased by 18%.

Furthermore, a large-scale retrospective study involving more than 300,000 children with a parent in the US Army showed an association between parental combat deployment and a higher risk for mental disorder-related visits. The most significant increase in mental health cases was found in children whose parents were deployed for over 11 months. The largest deployment-related effects were noted in relation to acute stress disorder, adjustment disorders, behavioral disorders, and depression.

Behavioral Problems

Beyond the psychological impact, the behavior of children in military families is also profoundly affected. A study of preschool children (3 to 5 years of age) affected by current wartime deployments revealed higher levels of emotional reactivity, anxiousness or depression, somatic complaints, sleep difficulties, and withdrawal than in children whose parents were not deployed.

Additionally, research suggests a higher risk for substance use in adolescents from deployed military families. In a large normative study from California, military-connected youth had significantly greater odds of substance use (odds ratio [OR] 1.73) than their civilian counterparts.

Child maltreatment is another troubling concern in military families. Several US studies have described increasing rates of child maltreatment in military children, with the greatest rise in rates attributable to child neglect. The incidence of child abuse in families with one parent deployed was noted to be 42% higher than for military families during non-deployment times, but both rates are higher than for civilian families.

The psychological and behavioral impacts of having a parent in the military, especially during deployment times, cannot be overlooked. These factors contribute to the higher risk of substance abuse in military kids and underscore the need for comprehensive support and intervention programs.

Read: The Rising Substance Abuse in the Face of Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19)

Substance Abuse in Adults

Substance abuse is a significant concern among adults in the military community, particularly among veterans. The unique challenges and experiences they face can often lead to a higher risk of substance abuse and associated mental health issues.

Veterans' Experiences

Veterans in the US military have a longer duration of addiction, with an average of 21.9 years, compared to non-veterans who average 17.75 years [3]. Moreover, veterans initiate recovery at an older age, averaging 42.5 years, compared to non-veterans who start at an average age of 35.4 years.

Despite these challenges, veterans in recovery report significant improvements in functioning across various domains, including finances, family, health, legal matters, and employment. They report financially healthier experiences, such as paying taxes and personal debts, compared to non-veterans. Furthermore, veterans in recovery have fewer legal issues, such as getting off probation or parole and restoring driver's licenses, compared to non-veterans [3].

Mental Health Challenges

The risk for substance abuse is higher in military kids, in part due to the mental health challenges faced by their parents, particularly veterans. Often, veterans deal with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety, which can increase their propensity for substance misuse.

The stress and trauma related to military service can lead to self-medication with alcohol or drugs, exacerbating mental health disorders and creating a cycle of addiction that is challenging to break. This cycle not only impacts the individual but also the family as a whole, including children. The implications of this cycle are severe, underscoring the need for effective interventions and support for veterans and their families.

In the next section, we will delve into the available support and interventions that can help mitigate these risks and promote healthier lifestyles for military families.

Support and Interventions

Addressing the risk for substance abuse in military kids requires coordinated efforts from various stakeholders. This includes family support programs and treatment options, which can provide valuable assistance to children and their families.

Family Support Programs

Family support programs serve a critical role in mitigating the risk of substance abuse in military children. These programs aim to strengthen family bonds, improve communication, and provide coping strategies to deal with the unique challenges faced by military families.

In addition to providing emotional and psychological support, these programs may also offer resources and referrals to specialized services, such as mental health clinics and substance abuse treatment centers. This comprehensive approach helps to create a supportive environment where children can thrive despite the challenges associated with military life.

Importantly, the need for such support extends to all family members, not just the children. For example, in 2015, it was found that approximately 22.6 percent of military wives aged 18 to 49 received mental health services in the past year, compared to 16.9 percent of all married women in the same age group [4]. This highlights the high demand for mental health services among military families and the vital role of family support programs in meeting this need.

Treatment Options

When substance abuse issues do arise, it's crucial to have access to effective treatment options. These may range from outpatient counseling services to inpatient rehabilitation programs, depending on the severity of the problem.

Importantly, treatment programs should be tailored to meet the unique needs of military families. This includes addressing any underlying mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, which may contribute to substance abuse.

Recovery is a journey, and it's important to celebrate the progress made along the way. Research has shown that veterans in recovery report significant improvements in various domains, including finances, family, health, and legal matters [3]. For example, veterans in recovery are more likely to pay their taxes and personal debts, have fewer legal issues such as getting off probation or parole, and restore their driver's licenses compared to non-veterans.

These findings underscore the transformative power of effective treatment and the importance of providing accessible and comprehensive services to military families. By investing in support and interventions, we can help protect military kids from the risk of substance abuse and ensure they have the tools and resources to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

Addressing the Issue

Addressing the issue of increased risk for substance abuse in military kids requires diligent efforts on multiple fronts. These include comprehensive prevention strategies and the utilization of existing community resources.

Prevention Strategies

Prevention strategies are crucial in reducing substance abuse risks. These strategies may include educational programs aimed at increasing awareness about the dangers of substance abuse, as well as programs that equip military children and their families with coping mechanisms to deal with stressors unique to military life.

In addition, ongoing support and counseling can be instrumental in helping military children navigate the challenges associated with their parent’s military service. This includes helping them develop resilience and adaptability, which are crucial in mitigating substance abuse risks.

Lastly, it's important to foster an environment where mental health is prioritized and not stigmatized. Regular mental health check-ups should be encouraged, and access to mental health services should be readily available. These measures can help identify potential problems early on and provide necessary interventions before they escalate into serious substance abuse issues.

Community Resources

Community resources can also play a significant role in addressing the higher risk for substance abuse in military kids. Schools, religious institutions, and local community organizations can provide supportive networks and resources to help military families.

For instance, schools can implement programs that address the unique needs of military children, including counseling services, peer mentoring programs, and extracurricular activities designed to provide positive outlets for stress.

Religious institutions and community organizations can also offer support groups and recreational activities that promote a sense of belonging and help mitigate the feelings of isolation and stress that can contribute to substance abuse.

Moreover, various non-profit organizations specifically cater to the needs of military families, offering a range of services from counseling and therapy, to recreational activities and support groups. These organizations can be a valuable resource for military children and their families, providing much-needed support and assistance.

Addressing the higher risk for substance abuse in military kids is a multifaceted issue that requires concerted efforts from all sectors of society. By implementing robust prevention strategies and fully utilizing community resources, we can help protect these vulnerable children and ensure they have the support they need to thrive despite the challenges they face.


[1]: https://cps.ca/en/documents/position/military-families/

[2]: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23441867/

[3]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4195573/

[4]: https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-MilitaryFamily-2015/NSDUH-MilitaryFamily-2015.htm

[5]: https://www.seattletimes.com/education-lab/study-military-children-at-greater-risk-of-violence-substance-abuse/

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Substance Use rate in Military Kids
Alcohol Higher
Binge Drinking Higher
Marijuana Higher
Other Illegal Drugs Higher
Prescription Drugs Misuse Higher