Flying High: Everything You Need to Know About Addiction in Fighter Pilots

Fighter pilots have been put in extremely dangerous and scary situations frequently…

It’s part of the job.

But, when the fighter pilot you know and love is struggling with addiction, it can be hard to quite grasp what it is they are going through. The statistics are shocking and they definitely aren’t alone – but, as someone from the outside, you might not be able to see even a glimpse into their world.

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Why are fighter pilots so susceptible?

By definition, a fighter pilot is a military aviator who is trained to fly in the cockpit of a fighter aircraft and engage in air-to-air combat. Sounds pretty scary, right? They are literally fighting with military weapons while in the air. This can lead to a lot of fear and anxiety, only increasing their susceptibility to addiction.

The physical conditions could also lead to increased drug abuse. Pilots are required to stay awake for long periods of time and while in grueling conditions. They also might experience physical pain as a result of their career choice, leading to further susceptibility to drug abuse.

In addition to the nature of the job and the task at hand, long and strenuous hours can also lead to an increased rate of drug abuse.

What is the statistics?

Research shows that in around 15-20 percent of all aviation incidents and accidents, pilots tested positive for the use of some type of substance. Among pilots, the most commonly used substance is marijuana and alcohol which could both easily impair the pilot’s skills in the time of an emergency.

To put the numbers into perspective, data shows that pilots have a rate of substance abuse comparable to top executives, legal professionals, and physicians. However, the pilots who suffer from substance abuse are on average older than the general population who suffers from abuse.


Research and statistics show that anyone is susceptible to addiction. Some are more susceptible than others, and a big part of this can be the nature and conditions of their career choice. However, as a pilot or other major public figure, it is important that we ensure these professionals remain in top shape with good health. Substance abuse in pilots can be both harmful to them and those around them.

It is important to know the signs of abuse, how to treat it, and what you can do to prevent it in yourself and those around you.


Addiction in Fighter Pilots: What You Need to Know

Do you ever find yourself just feeling helpless? Like you have just run out of options or you are just at a loss for words?

You might find yourself feeling this way quite often if a fighter pilot you know and love has found themselves in the midst of addiction – whether it be to drugs or alcohol.

Oftentimes, those who have spouses or other loved ones who have found themselves in the midst of addiction are incredibly unsure what to do…

What do you say?

How do you help them?

When have you done or said too much?

You will frequently find yourself asking questions like that as you struggle to decide what to do – what is best and how much is too much. However, when dealing with addiction in fighter pilots, other military personnel, or really just any addict in general, there are a few things to keep in mind…

You will never understand.

This is probably no secret to you – and your addicted loved one has probably also made this very clear – but you will never understand. A special circumstance that comes with fighter pilot addiction is the events leading up to the addiction…

So, not only will you not understand what it is like to be addicted to something – unless you are a recovering addict yourself – you will also not understand what it is like to see the things they have seen and be in the positions they have been in. The events that take place in war take a toll on fighter pilots both mentally and physically, easily leading them to addiction.

So, as you try to help your loved one, be open-minded and try to console them with the typical, “I understand.”

They will need time to grieve.

They may want you involved in their grieving and they may not – it is all about how they feel best about going about it and what is beneficial to their healing.

Most fighter pilots, and other military personnel alike, often find themselves holding their emotions in. This can also aid in their falling into addiction.

Grey Jet Plane

As they begin to recover, they will need to grieve for two things: the times they had in the military – losses suffered, terrible acts were seen – and the quitting of their drug of choice. The drug is their crutch and it has continued to be a part of their life. In order to recover, it takes a grieving period just realizing that it is time to lose the substance and move on.

Wrapping It Up

In conclusion, addicts need help, love, and support. But, they also need you to be understanding and to learn how to properly help them.

Aiding an addict in recovery is a team effort that takes time and dedication from everyone.