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History of Military Drug Addiction

The United States military is no stranger to substance abuse; in fact, it runs rampant throughout our history.

One of the bloodiest wars in American history was that of the Civil War (1861-1865). More than one million Americans were killed and countless others were injured or developed debilitating diseases.

With the advent of the syringe in 1853, the seemingly perfect solution to intense pain and suffering on the front lines was the newly minted opioid pain reliever, morphine. Doctors were injecting it frequently, not realizing its high potential for addiction. Soldiers were addicted to morphine for decades after the war, the addiction being termed “Soldier’s Disease.”

World War I (1914-1919), came with the advent of instant coffee and pre-rolled cigarettes for instant gratification to assuage the caffeine and nicotine addiction sweeping the military ranks. With the abolition of prohibition, alcohol was one of the drugs of choice for servicemen in World War II (1939-1945).

It was available on army bases and even handed out with military rations. Another drug that reared its head in WWII was the stimulant methamphetamine. It was given to pilots and tank drivers to keep them focused and awake during combat. Many alcoholics and meth addicts came home from this war, although exact statistics are difficult to come by.

The demoralizing and controversial Vietnam War (1959-1975) brought its own set of problems and struggles for the American soldier. The war dragged on, and soldiers became restless and miserable and looked to self-medicate. The drug culture in the United States was exploding with drugs like marijuana, psychedelics and amphetamines gaining popularity.

Bored soldiers were turning toward marijuana much like their peers back home in the states.

The social stigmas against illicit drug use were waning, and in Vietnam, heroin moved to the forefront. Apparently South Vietnamese officials were selling it, making it readily accessible and inexpensive. It is estimated that half of the military population in Vietnam tried opium or heroin during their tour and one-fifth of them came home addicted.

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