Substance Abuse in the Army Unit

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Substance abuse is historically considered one of the challenges that affect the army units in different countries around the world. In a study conducted by Witkiewitz and Estrada (2011), it was established that army personnel abuse substances such as alcohol and drugs for similar reasons as other people. In this study, the authors documented responses from people in the military who stated that they abused these substances due to the good feeling they acquire from using them. However, in the military, other factors also contribute to substance abuse. As Hollis, Kelley and Bravo (2016) observed, military people are subjected to diverse stressors, most of which affect their psychological and physical well-being. These include the stress of awareness about involvement in armed conflict, the stress of separation from family or spouses, and the stress accruing from long periods of turmoil and boredom in the war setting.

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Substance abuse is more prevalent in today’s army. Moreover, this work maintains that sergeants major assist their soldiers to work better by embracing positive psychology as well as resiliency that are powerful tools in helping troops manage unproductive behaviors and stress. To reduce substance abuse within the unit, Sergeants Major can use positive psychology and the Master Resiliency Training (MRT) competencies of optimism, mental agility, and connection. The purpose of this paper is to address the issues of substance abuse within the unit.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse, as defined by Witkiewitz and Estrada (2011), is excessive or inappropriate use of drugs and alcohol. In the introductory part of this essay, the factors that lead to the prevalence of substance abuse in the army have been discussed, with stress being identified as a causative agent that drives the military people into the use of drugs and alcohol. In the military, Hollis, Kelley, and Bravo (2016) identified the drugs that are commonly abused, further explaining that these drugs are similar to those used by other people. These substances include methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, inhalants and alcohol.

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However, the concerns about substance abuse in the military outweigh those of the civilian population. While citing the report by the US Army Military Resilient Training Program, Farrell, Bowen, and Swick (2014) noted that substance abuse harms the judgment and decision-making abilities. Besides, substance abuse, as documented in the report, leads to challenges in problem-solving, while reducing the memory and learning capabilities of the addicted person. Most of the victims of substance abuse in the military have been found to have serious domestic problems, ranging from suicidal tendencies to violence and withdrawal from the society. In addition, other war veterans struggling with substance abuse have encountered financial and legal problems, which Reivich, Seligman, and McBride (2011) attributed to the poor judgment and decision-making abilities.

Substance abuse in the military interferes with the levels of alertness and readiness within units. The good feeling that addicts acquire from using these substances, coupled with the stresses that push them to abusing these substances, often makes them less prepared to attend to their military duties. In addition, the serving military personnel who struggle with substance abuse are less effective, hence linking substance abuse to reduced efficiency. Inefficiency may expose the entre unit to danger, as the military units function optimally through individual role plays. Substance abuse, therefore, increases the prevalence of indiscipline within the military.

Having acknowledged substance abuse as a prevalent challenge in the army units, it is imperative for the sergeants major to adopt psychological methods to help the military personnel recover from substance abuse. Such interventions, furthermore, play a pivotal role in mitigating the risks associated with substance abuse, which goes a long way in increasing the probability of successful military operations.

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that that entails the virtues and strengths that enhance the probability of success within communities and among individuals. Positive psychology is established on the basis of the belief that people desire to lead fulfilling and meaningful live while harnessing the strengths within themselves to realize their optimal successes. Positive psychology also taps into the belief that people want to enhance their experiences of work, socialization, playing and other aspects of life.

Positive psychology approaches have proven to be effective in treating substance addiction. According to M Swaby (2017), positive psychology plays a pivotal role in promoting the long term recovery goals from substance addiction. In the traditional formats of administering treatment to substance addicts, military personnel were told that they had a disease that they had to manage for the entire part of their lives. Evidence from psychologists indicates that these traditional prognoses were demoralizing, and led to more psychological torture among the addicts (Witkiewitz & Estrada, 2011).

However, with Positive psychology, Sergeants Major can reframe the situation, hence suggesting that addition is a behavioral disorder that can be changed. Positive psychology enables the army unit leaders to empower and motivate those suffering from substance abuse, hence providing them with an opportunity to recover from their conditions. Positive psychology employs the elements of re-envisioning and self-discovery to enable the substance addicts acquire awareness on the relationships and activities that are important to them. In the case of the military, the self-discovery process enables addicts to understand the significance of their role within the army units, and the risks they expose their colleagues when they exhibit inefficiency and reducing alertness.

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Positive psychology enables sergeants major to realize meaningful recovery among the substance abuse victims within their respective units. However, this method of treatment can only work when the pain of the past is eradicated, and subsequent future goals set. Part of the challenge that the army encounters is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which limits the ability of a person to overcome the effects of the stresses that accrue from continued exposure to traumatic events (Hollis et al., 2016). In many instances, Positive psychology may fail to work effectively owing to the challenge that individual addicts encounter when trying to overcome the memories and thoughts of colleagues killed in combat. However, as the following section explains, the Master Resiliency Program can help PTSD-induced addicts overcome substance abuse.

Master Resiliency

Master resiliency is a training program that supports military personnel and their families in the development of behavioral, physical, psychological and emotional toughness. As explained by Reivich, Seligman, and McBride (2011), master resiliency is designed to enable people cope with the adversities that come with the traumatic nature of hostile environments and to overcome the challenges presented by these environments. Through master resiliency, it becomes easier for people to adapt to change. Overall, it is believed that master resiliency training enhances the mental health while improving the performance of the military personnel.

When administering master resiliency, Sergeants Major are aware that this program enhances the chance of success and survival in the course of military service. In the US, the US Army’s Ready and Resilient Campaign was launched in 2009 to enable military personnel in operation as well their families to increase their resilience. Resilience is an important feature of this program, as it has been established that resilience enables people to overcome the stresses that subject them to substance abuse.

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Optimism is a facet of master resiliency that enables people to think positively. Stressful events in the military subjects people to depression, which manifests in negative and pessimistic thoughts, thus the indulgence in substance abuse to overcome these thoughts. Positive thought processes enable these people to counter depression and anxiety. Optimism enables individuals to stay calm and pursue their life and career goals regardless of the challenges encountered.

Mental Agility

One of the challenges that Witkiewitz and Estrada (2011) linked with substance abuse is poor judgment, thus poor decision making. Mental agility training is a feature of master resiliency that enables the substance addicts to boost memory and improve their quality of life in aspects such as work and domestic relationships. In the army unit, rapid physical agility enhances mental agility as there is a relationship between mental flexibility and quickness generated by the physical agility. Mental agility plays a crucial role in preparing soldiers for fieldwork. This feature enables soldiers to react to situations promptly and to remain focused on their duties especially when in combat missions.


Master resiliency fosters connection, which is often destroyed by the symptoms of withdrawal that substance addicts exhibit when subjected to other recovery programs. Within the army units, the resilience training incorporates effective communication, which enhances the ability of military personnel to build strong relationships that are defined by empathy, willingness to ask for help and willingness to offer help. This connection makes it easier for the substance addicts to effectively re-integrate with their units.

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In this discussion, the fields of positive psychology and master resilience have been highlighted as significant pillars to the efforts of eradicating substance abuse in the military units. These programs, though rolled out gradually should encompass finding a solution to the underlying challenges presented to military personnel, including the work stresses. In conclusion, each military department should consider having a psychology-based program to help eradicate the operational risks presented by substance abuse.

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  1. Farrell, A., Bowen, G., & Swick, D. (2014). Network supports and resiliency among U.S. military spouses with children with special health care needs. Family Relations63(1), 55-70.
  2. Hollis, B., Kelley, M., & Bravo, A. (2016). Pre-military abuse, mental health, and hazardous alcohol use among military personnel. Journal of Substance Use22(2), 187-191.
  3. M Swaby, S. (2017). The positive psychology of recovery: A review. MOJ Addiction Medicine & Therapy3(3).
  4. Reivich, K., Seligman, M., & McBride, S. (2011). Master resilience training in the U.S. Army. American Psychologist66(1), 25-34.
  5. Witkiewitz, K., & Estrada, A. (2011). Substance abuse and mental health treatment in the military: Lessons learned and a way forward. Military Psychology23(1), 112-123.
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