In 2011, a solider shot a sheriff’s deputy to death in Fort Gordon, Georgia, and then killed himself. That soldier, Spc. Christopher Hodges, was drunk; at the time, he was receiving outpatient treatment for addiction.

Last week in USA Today, a veteran Army doctor came forward to criticize the Army’s approach to soldiers with substance abuse issues. The doctor, Patrick Lillard, believes both men might still be alive if Hodges had been hospitalized for his alcoholism.

Treating substance abuse is a challenge even for resource-rich institutions like the military. Earlier this year, USA Today uncovered serious problems in the Army’s addiction program: “[The program] is in disarray, with thousands of soldiers turned away from needed treatment, dozens of suicides linked to poor care and too few qualified counselors.”

According to Dr. Lillard, the Army suffers from misperceptions about alcoholism that remain widespread:

Lillard said the Army still looks upon the hard-drinking soldier as a tough stereotype, a problem that can be handled chiefly through discipline. “It’s still not accepted that we’re dealing with medical problems,” he said, “with real disease and illnesses.”
Dr. Lillard hopes that this tragedy will lead to reform of military substance abuse programs. Such reform is needed; addiction in the armed services is a rapidly growing problem. According to

[A]buse of prescription drugs is higher among service members than among civilians and is on the increase. In 2008, 11 percent of service members reported misusing prescription drugs, up from 2 percent in 2002 and 4 percent in 2005.
In some ways, the story of Specialist Hodges is sadly representative of alcoholics generally. He drank heavily as a teenager, and his alcohol use led to medical and emotional problems. Hodges eventually took another man’s life, then his own. Not every alcoholic meets their end in the same way. But the disease destroys people regardless of their specific circumstances—and help is out there for all of them.

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