By Behnam Gholipour
September 30, 2021
The extent of drug abuse in military barracks is one of the many embarrassing realities in Iran that the state tries hard not to address. Under the Islamic Republic, military and paramilitary officers enjoy a wealth of legal immunities, while the tame domestic media rarely if ever covers the issue and statistics are thin on the ground. A few scattered studies, however, indicate this might be a common phenomenon. A report in the latest issue of Imam Hossein University’s quarterly journal Military Psychology has shed light on the prevalence of drug use just in the province of Lorestan.
Naturally, the list of drugs used by soldiers in Lorestan includes the ubiquitous ones: alcohol, and marijuana. But according to a recent survey of 400 troops, the most popular narcotics used by servicemen are codeine pills and cough syrup, followed by opium.
The finding was among those published in the latest issue of Military Psychology, in an article entitled Study of the prevalence of drug use among soldiers in barracks in Lorestan province. Though the two authors hailed from Islamic Azad University, the journal’s publisher, Imam Hossein University, is itself affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards.
The study put an array of questions to soldiers about their drug use. It found that while just six said their drug use was “very heavy” before enlisting, this had more than doubled to 15 since they had joined up. Another 16 of the mostly young participants said they used drugs “a lot”: meaning if the Lorestan sample was representative, about one in every 13 soldiers in Iran is a heavy, habitual drug taker.
Another 18 participants – or about one in 22 – said their drug use was now at a “moderate” level, while 27 admitted to “low” drug use. Among those that owned up in the survey, codeine pills and cough syrup were the main drugs of choice both before and after enlisting, followed by opium.
Smaller numbers said they self-medicated with alcohol, cannabis, tramadol, painkillers and sleeping pills. Tramadol was the fifth most popular drug before military service, and the third most popular during, while alcohol dropped from third place to fifth after enlisting.
The study also examined how long soldiers had been using drugs before and after signing up. It found that the number who reported only using drugs in the short term – for less than three months – decreased after enlisting, while slightly more active servicemen, 55 compared to 41, reported having continuously used drugs for three months to two years since enlisting.
The study concluded: “Participating in military service did not make a difference to the duration of drug dependency compared to pre-military service… Even in the military, access to drugs is not restricted. The only issue may be the ease of use.” As such, the authors asserted, neither anti-drugs policies nor enforcement action were effective – at least, not in Lorestan – and this invited “fundamental change”.
Other Iranian studies over the years have shed some light on the same subject. In 2015, the quarterly Military Medicine published a study focusing on suicidal ideation among serving members of the Iranian military. It found that just over 28 percent of the 176 soldiers surveyed were at “high risk” of suicidal thoughts, which had a “direct and significant relationship” with substance abuse. It added: “Soldiers’ exposure to various stresses in military environments can increase the likelihood of suicidal tendencies and drug use.”
Another 2015 survey of 150 soldiers in Ardebil, first published by the same journal in 2017, concluded that “many” were turning to drugs “to overcome stress”. This study recommended “self-efficacy and social support” to reduce the risk of addiction within the ranks. Another study published in 2020 found that the potential for addiction among soldiers in Kermanshah was reduced through training in group problem-solving skills.