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A Safer STAND on Substance Use

The New Zealand Defence Force is improving its response to substance use. A new harm minimisation framework is being implemented to reduce and prevent harm from substance use in our armed forces.

A Safer STAND on Substance Use

Under the banner ‘STAND’, the framework is aimed at preventing impairment in the workplace and providing support to those who need it. This is a long term culture change process that involves everyone. It draws on our values-based culture to ensure better modelling of behaviour.

STAND Values Video

Click on the image to watch our video about applying Defence Force values to help avoid substance misuse issues.

The Defence Force has an interest in the use of substances by personnel as they can impair individuals, create security risk, and damage trust, morale and organisational reputation. 

Substance Harm Minimisation Training

Click the image below to open the training in a new webpage. 

Substance Harm Minimisation e-learning(external link)


Substance misuse is incompatible with service

To make this a safer and more rewarding place to work, the Defence Force reaffirms its position that substance misuse is incompatible with service. This position is guided by three principals:

The safety of personnel is critical

Impairment from substance use is a major health and safety risk and must be minimised through all means available.

The wellbeing of personnel is a priority

We must strive to support and retain personnel experiencing problems from substance use, but not at the cost of Force and unit safety.

Substance misuse has consequences

The consequences of substance misuse must be predictable and proportionate.

Why use the word 'substance'?

We are using the word 'substance' to highlight that drugs are not the only things that have the potential to cause harm, and misuse of alcohol can do much damage.

The term ‘substance’ is intentionally broad to cover compounds that can cause impairment. It includes but is not limited to legal substances such as alcohol and over-the-counter supplements; prescription only medicines including steroids; those not intended for recreational use such as volatile substances; and illegal drugs including cannabis, methamphetamine, synthetic substances and many others. 

Not all substance use is misuse

People sometimes use substances for reasons that are unlikely to cause problems such as pleasure, bonding, or performance enhancement. This can include moderate use of alcohol and approved performance supplements.

However, the nature of work for the Defence Force provides additional risk factors for substance use. This can result in people using for escape, to cope with trauma or self-medication. Personnel are also recruited for a willingness to take risks which has the potential to include experimentation with substances or using in riskier ways.

Misuse is when it is illegal, harmful, or causes impairment while at work 

Misuse is any substance use that:

  • is an offence against the Armed Forces Discipline Act 1971 - this includes being unfit for duty because of intoxication from alcohol or drugs and/or any breach of civilian law, and/or
  • causes impairment in a Defence work environment, and/or
  • results in harm to themselves, others and/or the reputation of the NZDF

Examples include hazardous use of alcohol, use of a drug controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, use of medication without a prescription, and use of any unapproved psychoactive substance – whether on duty or not.

Doing things differently to get a better result

Stand was developed through a partnership between the New Zealand Defence Force Health Directorate and the New Zealand Drug Foundation using a co-design process. Co-design ensures we match the best evidence with the experience and insights of people who work for the Defence Force. The Drug Foundation also joined Health Directorate staff in visiting all camps and bases to hear what works locally and where improvements can be made.

Co-design video

Click the image to watch a video on how co-design was incorporated into the project

Five key messages we stand by

Stand will communicate messages about substance use to personnel through to mid-2020. These messages will aim to clarify expectations, build knowledge, and promote behaviour that supports our values, goals and policies. Communication channels and tools will include training, videos, emails, posters, printed documents and social media.  

The key message of each communication will be on one or more of the following: 

Applying our values when using alcohol or other substances reduces problems

Applying the Defence Force values can positively influence behaviour and mitigate risks from substance use. As a structured, values driven organisation, the Defence Force values of courage, commitment, and comradeship help convey expectations, provide a guide to professional and behavioural standards, and shape organisational culture. Living up to these values requires personnel to make hard decisions and stand by them, put others first, develop the capacity to work and learn together, and be honest, open, trusting and trustworthy.

Impairment from alcohol or other substances while on duty is a major safety risk

For Defence Force personnel, safety and security sensitivities increase the potential problems that can occur from substance use and impairment. Failure to effectively manage some of the drivers of substance use is at the cost of safety and security.

Not all substance use causes problems

All substance use has the potential to cause problems or impairment. However, low to moderate amounts of alcohol while not at work, or prescribed medicine are examples of substance use that may not cause problems.

Asking for help with problems can reduce the risk of substance use

The nature of our work in the Defence Force can contribute to substance use. Trauma, safety and security critical work environments, heavy or fluctuating workloads leading to either stress or boredom, and extended periods away from family and other support networks can all contribute to risky behaviour. 

Once changes to policy and practices are in place, we hope that Defence Force personnel will feel confident discussing problems with others. Anyone can experience problems from alcohol and other substances, including veterans and family members.

Personnel experiencing problems from alcohol or other substances will be supported.

An ideal support system will mean personnel receive timely and appropriate support as needed. We want to see more people receiving support with a greater awareness of what this involves, where and how to ask for help as well as increased early intervention.

Further Information and Help

For further information you can also go to the "Worried about how I behave" section under MIND on this website, and if you would like to find out how to get help for yourself or someone you know, take a look at the "Take Action" section.

An overview of STAND and its framework is contained in the Strategy document below:

View pdf
STAND Strategy Document
4.9 MB