Soldiers partied their way through lockdown on ecstasy because they were “bored” being stuck in their barracks, The Telegraph can reveal.
Figures obtained from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) show the number of Army personnel caught taking MDMA nearly tripled from 2019 to 2020, rising from 80 cases to 230.
However, in 2021 this had plummeted to just 20 cases.
More than 1,000 service personnel were expelled in total from the Armed Forces between the beginning of 2020 and the end of 2021 for failing compulsory drug tests.
Ahmed Al-Nahhas, a partner and the head of military claims at Bolt Burdon Kemp, a law firm, attributed the spike in ecstasy to the “isolating” experience of soldiers being confined to their quarters.
He told The Telegraph: “It may say something about what their habits were during, so for example it may have something with the need for mood-enhancement during Covid years, wanting to be happy so to speak.
“It doesn’t surprise me that their cannabis use has been increasing, probably for the same reason… they are doing lots of them in lockdown.
“It is shocking that there are such high numbers. Drugs have been increasingly prevalent in the Army.
“They are twiddling their thumbs, aren’t they? You have got these individuals who are trained to be physical and to exert themselves. They can’t go to the gym. They can’t socialise.
“They can go out for a run and that is pretty much it. But it becomes a very isolated experience even if you are training and staying fit on your own.”
A Freedom of Information Request submitted by The Telegraph found that just shy of 5,000 service personnel across the Armed Forces have been discharged for taking cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, ketamine, mephedrone and steroids since 2014.
All MoD staff can be expected to be drug tested randomly, at the very minimum, once a year.
However, if a Commanding Officer suspects there is a problem within a particular unit, they can request as many rounds of additional testing to stamp out the problem.
The number of soldiers caught taking cannabis fell from 180 in 2019 to just 80 the following year. However, by 2021 it had soared to 250.
Similarly, cocaine use, the worst offending drug, halved from 570 in 2019 to 280 in 2020.
But by the end of the following year, it also overtook pre-lockdown levels with 610 failed tests recorded.
A former general in the British Army told The Telegraph that the military is no longer offering the same level of excitement to soldiers it once did which may be pushing soldiers to recreational drug use.
He said: “The Army is largely UK-based now. It doesn’t have 10,000 soldiers deployed in southern Afghanistan. It’s much less operationally busy now than it was.
“That’s a boredom factor. It doesn’t offer the appeal to young soldiers with a sense of adventure that it did do a few years ago. And then, of course, you add Covid on top of that.
“Young men who join the Army, they don’t necessarily want to be cooped up in camp.
“There’s only so much training you can do before people get bored… They need to go on deployments, we need to go on operations, otherwise soldiers get bored and cause mischief, quite frankly.”
An MoD spokesman said: “Armed Forces personnel caught dealing or taking drugs can expect to be discharged.
“Drug testing is mandatory in the Armed Forces and each of the services has a comprehensive education programme on the dangers and consequences of substance misuse.”