Site icon Beat Addiction Recovery

The U.S. Military Has an Alcohol Use Disorder Problem

When we think about the men and women who stand up for our country through their military service, we most often think about their bravery, strength, and selflessness.  It’s heartbreaking to learn that many of these service members suffer from substance use disorder (SUD).  The most common reported SUD is alcohol use disorder.  This blog aims to shed light on the challenges faced by the military community, drawing on key findings from a Department of Defense (DOD) survey, described below, to better understand the complex issue of alcohol misuse within this unique environment.

The Scope of the Problem

The DOD has long known about the persistent and serious issue of alcohol abuse within the military.  For more than 30 years, the DOD has periodically conducted a survey, “The Health Related Behaviors Survey”, to monitor the health and wellbeing of service members.  The most recent survey was published in 2021, reflecting data collected in 2018.  (To read the full survey results, click here.) The 2018 survey, encompassing a diverse sample of active-duty military personnel, unveils the extent of alcohol abuse within the active-duty military, raising concerns about the individual health of service members and a broader concern about military readiness.

According to the survey, 34% of active service members reported binge drinking in the last 30 days.  Binge drinking for purposes of this study was defined as 5 or more drinks on one occasion for men and 4 or more drinks on one occasion for women. 

Additionally, almost 10% of active service members reported being heavy drinkers, which is defined as binge drinking at least once each week in the last 30 days.

It is difficult to compare these statistics to similar statistics from the civilian population, since the service member population is skewed towards young males- both characteristics (young and male) are risk factors for higher levels of alcohol abuse.  However, for illustrative purposes, the results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health1, reported that about 25% of individuals 12 years old and older were active binge drinkers and approximately 12% of alcohol users were heavy drinkers.

Factors Contributing to Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol use disorder is a complex disease and determining causal factors is equally complex. For many service members, the military environment is characterized by high-stress situations, deployments, and other unique professional demands.  Following active service, service members may face additional challenges with reintegrating into civilian life.  All of these factors result in concern for service members’ emotional and mental health.  The survey results offer insights into these stressors. 

Barriers to Treatment

The survey reveals two key barriers to seeking treatment.  First, a cultural barrier exists for more than 28% of service members.  They reported that the military culture is supportive of alcohol use and that drinking alcohol was necessary to fit in with their colleagues.  Second, there is a stigma.  More than a third (34%) responded that seeking mental health services is damaging to a military career.

Despite the availability of support services, a significant number of military personnel hesitate to seek help for alcohol-related issues.

Getting Help

Within the DOD, the Military One Source program is available to provide support on a wide range of topics, including substance use disorder.  You can find their website clicking here .

You can also reach out to us at Beat Addiction Recovery for a confidential discussion of our program, which can be done on an outpatient basis. You can reach us here.

  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables, Rockville, Md.: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, 2019 ( ↩︎
Exit mobile version