Last Updated: September 15, 2023
Because you must disclose your entire medical history, being honest about your rehab history when applying for the military is best.
If you’re considering joining the military, you may be worried they will find out about your history of substance abuse. Many people with an addiction history may fear seeking treatment because they don’t want their employer to find out that they’ve had an addiction. For people considering joining the military, it’s common to ask, “Will the military know if I went to rehab?”
Can the Military Find Out if You Went to Rehab?
When you apply to enlist in the military, you must provide a complete medical history to your recruiter. This includes submitting documentation related to your medical history, which requires you to authorize the release of your medical records to the Department of Defense when you choose to enlist in the military. The best choice is to be honest with the military about your history of receiving substance abuse treatment because you are required to disclose your entire medical history to them.
It’s important to remember that a history of drug or alcohol addiction can be a disqualifying condition for military enlistment. The recruiter handling your case will evaluate your medical history and determine it on a case-by-case basis. You may be able to receive a medical waiver if you are disqualified for having a history of addiction.
Does Going to Rehab Go On Your Record?
Attending a drug or alcohol rehab program will not show up on your criminal record in any way. Medical records are generally kept confidential unless you authorize their release to a third party. While your rehab history will not show up on a criminal record or background check, what will appear is a history of drug-related offenses. If you have been charged with a drug-related crime, the military can access this information when you’re applying to enlist.
How Does Rehab Improve Your Chances of Getting Into the Military?
You may fear disclosing your history of substance abuse treatment to the military, but the best choice is, to be honest. If you can demonstrate to your recruiter that substance abuse is no longer a problem, you’re more likely to be accepted into the military. Attending and completing rehab shows that you are committed to personal growth. The resilience required to overcome addiction is also likely to be valued within the military culture.
Substance Use in Active-Duty Military Personnel
While current drug use, including testing positive for illegal substances, is a medical disqualifier for military enlistment, the unfortunate truth is that active-duty military personnel are not immune to addiction. Drug and alcohol misuse can become coping mechanisms for the stress associated with military life.
Alcohol Abuse in the Military
Research with active duty military personnel shows that nearly one-third of this population engages in binge drinking and over one-third show signs of problem drinking or probable alcohol use disorder. Combat exposure can lead to trauma, and military members may drink as a coping mechanism. The rates of binge drinking are slightly higher in military personnel than in the general population.
Given the high rates of problem drinking in the military, Tricare, the health system for active duty personnel, expanded its treatment offerings in 2016 to include intensive outpatient care. Tricare’s website also includes a drug and alcohol assessment tool.
Illicit Drug Use in the Military
Surveys with active duty military personnel show low rates of illegal drug use; in fact, less than 1% of military members report engaging in illicit drug use. Prescription drug misuse is more common in this population, with around 4% of active-duty personnel reporting misusing one or more prescription medications.
Prescription pain relievers are the most commonly abused prescription medications in military populations, and most opioid addictions in this group begin with the misuse of pain medications often prescribed to treat pain from deployment-related injuries. Given the dangers associated with opioid misuse, the Department of Defense has launched prevention initiatives.
The military also implements mandatory 26-panel drug testing for active duty personnel, and the 26-panel test was recently mandated for all military applicants as well. Those who fail two drug tests are permanently disqualified from the military.
What Happens If You’re Rejected From the Military Due to Drug or Alcohol Abuse?
A positive drug test during the recruitment process can result in you being rejected from the military. If you fail a drug test, you can reapply after 90 days in some instances, but a second positive test disqualifies you permanently. If you’re rejected after a second failed drug test, you will not have the opportunity to reapply.
This is why seeking treatment is often the best option. If you fail a drug test or have a problem with substance abuse, completing treatment before applying to join the military will reduce your risk of relapse or your chances of failing another drug test that disqualifies you from military service.
If you feel the military has unfairly rejected you because of a history of drug or alcohol abuse and treatment, you can appeal the decision of your recruiter. This requires you to submit an appeal in writing to the appropriate branch of the service.
Treatment Options for Addicted Military Personnel
Several options are available if you’re in the military and seeking addiction treatment. Tricare insurance will cover many services for substance use disorders, including medication-assisted treatment, inpatient and residential services, medical detox, intensive outpatient care and partial hospitalization programming.
At The Recovery Village Columbus, we have a FORTITUDE program specifically designed to meet the needs of service members. We offer exclusive groups tailored to the unique needs of military members. We can provide a full continuum of rehab services, including medical detox, inpatient care and outpatient services. We also offer co-occurring disorders treatment to address the needs of military personnel living with both an addiction and a co-occurring disorder, such as PTSD. Our services are trauma-informed, so we are qualified to offer quality veterans addiction treatment.
Department of Defense. “Medical Standards for Military Service: Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction.” May 6, 2018. Accessed July 20, 2023.
Code of Federal Regulations. “Title 32- National Defense.” May 27, 2015. Accessed July 20, 2023.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “General Risk of Substance Use Disorders.” October 2019. Accessed July 20, 2023.
Ferdinando, Lisa. “DoD Implements Expanded Drug Testing for Military Applicants.” U.S. Department of Defense, March 9, 2017. Accessed July 20, 2023.
U.S. Department of Defense. “Appealing a Military Recruiting Decision.” August 23, 2021. Accessed July 30, 2023.
Tricare. “Substance Use Disorder Treatment.” October 3, 2018. Accessed July 30, 2023.
Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.