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How Soliders Cope with Modern Warfare: Antidepressants

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

During the Vietnam war, the U.S. armed forces learned quite a few lessons about modern warfare the likes of which they never experienced before. One of those lessons was that fighting an intractable force on foreign soil was a frustrating effort in futility. No matter how many times we bombed Northern Vietnam forces, they continued to fight.

This led to serious morale issues amongst the troops on the front lines. Many soldiers resorted to illicit drug use to help ease the fear and pain of war.

And while the U.S. has apparently learned little from the military lessons the Vietnam war taught us in Iraq, we have learned how to help soliders cope with the stresses of war without marijuana or opium. No, we have modern and reportedly safer drugs to offer our soldiers.

Time magazine has the reported on America’s new “medicated Army:”

While the headline-grabbing weapons in this war have been high-tech wonders, like unmanned drones that drop Hellfire missiles on the enemy below, troops like LeJeune are going into battle with a different kind of weapon, one so stealthy that few Americans even know of its deployment. For the first time in history, a sizable and growing number of U.S. combat troops are taking daily doses of antidepressants to calm nerves strained by repeated and lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The medicines are intended not only to help troops keep their cool but also to enable the already strapped Army to preserve its most precious resource: soldiers on the front lines. Data contained in the Army’s fifth Mental Health Advisory Team report indicate that, according to an anonymous survey of U.S. troops taken last fall, about 12% of combat troops in Iraq and 17% of those in Afghanistan are taking prescription antidepressants or sleeping pills to help them cope. Escalating violence in Afghanistan and the more isolated mission have driven troops to rely more on medication there than in Iraq, military officials say.

Is it better the troops are taking antidepressants over, say, marijuana or alcohol, to help keep their morale up and cope with the terror of war? Probably.

But it’s also telling that prior to modern warfare in the 20th century, soldiers typically had no such pharmaceutical, mind-altering chemicals readily available to them regularly in combat (outside of the rations of rum provided to troops prior to WWII).

I’m not fearful of antidepressants causing untoward or unforeseen side effects in people who take them, active military or not. The track record on antidepressants is long and well-known. A soldier taking an antidepressant to cope with the stresses of combat is likely to be a better equipped soldier than one who is trying to deny their depressive feelings.

Of course, long, protracted wars with stop-loss policies are likely to lead to far greater numbers of depressed soldiers than say a targeted strike and limited engagement. So it’s really little wonder that the Army is dealing with its highest suicide rates in modern times and the media are writing articles about it.

Read the full article: America’s Medicated Army

How Soliders Cope with Modern Warfare: Antidepressants

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). How Soliders Cope with Modern Warfare: Antidepressants. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 7 Jun 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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