Using other substances?

Helping you get a greater understanding of the types of problematic substance use, and what to do if you think you (or someone else) might have a problem with substance use.

NZDF defines substances as a broad set of compounds that can alter a person’s mental and/or physical state. Problematic substance use can be defined as the point in which use results in harm to health, relationships and ability to perform in the workforce.

Problematic substance use can affect people in all walks of life. The reasoning behind problematic substance use varies and can involve significant mental and/or physical obstacles, so it's essential for us all to have a sympathetic and holistic understanding of the reason behind substance use rather than the act itself.

Substance use and Serving Members

NZDF personnel, throughout their career can experience various mental, physical and emotional triggers making substance use appealing, such as:

  • Processing trauma
  • Managing fatigue anxiety or depression
  • Being away from support networks and community
  • Problems in maintaining relationships
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Loss
  • Suffering physical injury
  • To feel good

Often family and the wider community can be affected by similar triggers for substance use too.

For many areas of society there is a difference between substance use and problematic substance use, especially where recreational drugs are seen as acceptable. However, substance use in a defence environment has a more serious and immediate consequence than in the general public. This may bring about discouraging feelings towards admitting to substance use and seeking help if you/they are a serving member.

Regardless of these feelings it is essential to consider your safety and the safety of those around you. If you know you’re struggling or someone close to you has issues with substance use the best thing to do is reach out, get some help and prevent larger issues from arising.

NZDF is committed to supporting and retaining the well-being of personnel experiencing problematic substance use by offering support from professionals both internally and externally.  A key focus will always be maintaining individual and organisational safety and without the cost of security and mission effectiveness.

Admitting substance use and seeking help can be a daunting process. However, in the end disclosing this information is the safest option for yourself, colleagues and wider NZDF community. 

Support can be sought through the following NZDF channels:

The process of seeking support within the Defence Force can involve:

  • Contact with a NZDF health, social or spiritual provider, or having concerns raised by another individual or command.
  • This information is referred for review by an NZDF medical practitioner.
  • The medical practitioner will take a history of the individual. To identify what substances have been taken and to assess whether substance misuse has occurred, if any.
  • The medical practitioner then determines what further action is necessary.
  • Managing immediate risk, emotionally and physically for the individual within the workplace.
  • Next NZDF will provide support and treatment plans. Depending on the severity of the case this may involve NZDF health, social or spiritual providers. With the aim to aid the individual’s care throughout their recovery.
  • Finally, facilitation into the return of effective military service. Depending on the individual’s situation, nature of disclosure and other various factors, disciplinary actions may result.


Types of substances

There are many types of substances, each having various short- and long- term effects on the body, physically and psychologically.

Some common types to be aware of include:

Stimulants like nicotine, meth, MDMA or cocaine

Depressants like alcohol, heroin, codeine, cannabis, common sleeping pills or antidepressants

Hallucinogens like LSD, or mushrooms

It is important as an individual to educate yourself on the types of substances out there, to understand clear and accurate information, so you can make informed decisions and reduce substance-related harm, whether it’s for yourself or your peers or your family members.

To read more general information on common types of drugs:

The PDF's above can be a starting point in gaining awareness on different effects expected, short and long term. Additionally some very useful websites to further educate include the NZ Drug Foundation and The Level. Both provide a good in depth guide for people who want to educate themselves on drugs in New Zealand.

Substance use stereotypes and perceptions

There is a common perception that people who use substances and cause harm, look or act a certain way. It is important to note that all substances can have disruptive effects to wellbeing, social capabilities, physiological health (short- and long-term), and work performance.

Similarly, various epidemiological studies have shown a link between problematic substance use and common addictive mental disorders (i.e. depression, anxiety).  Therefore, it is important to recognise that anyone can suffer from a substance use disorder no matter their social-economic status, genetics or background, especially when triggers like mental health disorders are contributing to problematic substance use.

Our aim as a community is to become sensitive to the idea that anyone may be struggling with problematic substance use.  When we do, help will become more widely accepted and accessible.

Recognising problematic substance use and addiction

It’s not always easy recognising the difference between substance use and problematic substance use. Here are some examples of motivation behind substance use, and some tips for recognising addiction.

Early signs of addiction can be as simple as feeling an urge to use the substance and experiencing regular and overpowering thoughts about effects associated with the substance use. Another sign is obsessing with the idea that using the substance may bring a ‘sense of normality’ or an ‘escape from reality’. These thoughts can be a slippery slope from an occasional indulgence to a reliance on the substance to get through the day/week. The sooner these feelings are recognised the easier it is to make an intervention and change the way you/they are thinking.

If you are concerned about your own or somebody else's substance use below are some useful questions to consider.  If you have found yourself answering yes to one or more it may be worthwhile reaching out for support. Click here to Get Help Now

  • Have you been using substances alone?
  • Has there been a time where you have taken a substance at an unorthodox time of day (i.e. in the morning)?
  • Do you find yourself thinking about using substances more than usual?
  • Have there been times when you have struggled to contribute at home or work because of your substance use?
  • Have you used substances to avoid facing your problems, or to feel relaxed, able to cope with the day?
  • Has anyone expressed concern about your substance use?

What can I do about it?

If you think your substance use taking is causing you problems, here are some tips for making decisions about what to do, and ways to start managing your substance use. For some people, these strategies might be all that is needed. For others, they can be a useful addition to getting professional help.

Useful Resources 

The Level - links to a variety of easily accessible support options.

NZ Drug Foundation - information on topics around drugs and the workplace, helping others, extensive resources on substance use and getting help.