Active Duty Military and Alcohol

Active Duty Military and Alcohol
Active Duty Military and Alcohol

Active Duty Military and Alcohol

1.      Introduction

Active duty military is understood as the younger workforce serving the military workforce, where many of the enlisted force comes in between the age of 17 through 24 years old; while seniors of active duty comprises of 27 through 34 years (Wooten, 2015). They are those who are directly or indirectly involved in mobilized military operation including combat.  Alcohol abuse has always been common among these active duty military, making ubiquitous practice of heavy drinking as nothing new to the American military system (Larson et al., 2014).

Considered as an accepted custom, drinking is simply considered by military army as a reward for their hard work, and as a commodity that ease their personal tensions since socializing with drinks promotes camaraderie (O’Brien, Oster, & Morden, 2013; Westermeyer & Kimbrel, 2013). There is no denying the fact that heavy drinking is conditioned by the easy availability of alcohol beverages which military personnel received at a reduced rate.

The essay looks into how alcohol consumption has become common among those in active duty military, and how there are risks involved in drinking like physical decline and mental and psychological comorbidities. The essay also provides a conceptual approach towards prevention and treatment of alcohol related issues in military department, by taking up certain structured measures taken up by the government to prevent the cause and spread of alcohol consumption.

  • Active Duty Military and Alcohol Related Matters in the United States

2.1. Identifying unique PROBLEMS IN Active Duty Military

Earlier, the combat at the Vietnam War caused many military men to become addicted to drugs in 1960 and 1970s, since many were serviced with drugs to make them tolerate the challenges of war environment (O’Brien et al., 2013). Reportedly there was misuse of drugs during this time, and this misuse has been attributed towards the military personnel using drugs for pain relieving and mental trauma issues.

Over the years, prescription of drugs has simply increased because of the availability of more drugs, and because of the wider prescription of medications, followed by intake of alcohol among the military department (O’Brien et al., 2013). This increase in intake of alcohol among military personnel has come to be associated with the recent military combats at Iraq and Afghanistan.

Such increase in the intake of alcohol emanates from many issues associated to their work, like the challenges of war, the stress involved with their work, and experiencing traumatic events that triggers off mental and psychological issues (Robert M. Bray, 2006; Cook, 2007; O’Brien et al., 2013). Many of those engaged in military operations at Iraq and

Afghanistan showed that they have been experiencing stress and strains over long deployments, extreme combat exposure, facing physical injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), thereby making them to easily succumb to alcoholic abuse (NIDA, 2011).

Wide availability of prescribing drugs also culminates toward drug abuse. According to the report by NIDA (2011, p. 1), “soldiers screened 3 to 4 months after returning from deployment to Iraq showed that 27 percent met criteria for alcohol abuse and were at increased risk  for related harmful behaviors (e.g., drinking and driving, using illicit  drugs).” Alcohol usage has also been strongly identified with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which comes from the traumatic experiences that military members experienced during the war (Leskin, 2015).

Such suffering culminates towards the victim to fail in becoming good parents and good members of the society, owing to lack of communication and social skills. To quote (NIDA, 2011, p. 1) again, “Mental illness among military personnel is also a major concern. In another study of returning soldiers, clinicians identified 20 percent of active and 42 percent of reserve component soldiers as requiring mental health treatment.

Drug or alcohol use frequently accompanies mental health problems and was involved in 30 percent of the Army’s suicide deaths from 2003 to 2009 and in more than 45 percent of non-fatal suicide attempts from 2005 to 2009.”

Many of the military personnel also consume alcohol simply to experience pleasure. The pursuit of pleasure through alcohol makes them to forego pain, and feel normal or feel euphoric for some time. The reward in term of such sensations allows them to release neurotransmitters called endorphins, thereby experiencing psychological and physiological exhilaration (O’Brien et al., 2013). Such engagement does not lead to any constructive behaviors, but only makes the person to become nonproductive and harmful in nature. Excess of alcohol consumption makes them to suffer from hijacking or from the aberration of normal brain function, thereby making them to become active in their work or when they are deployed.

Excess of alcohol consumption among active duty military men are known to lose their productivity or contract alcohol related diseases that leads to premature death (O’Brien et al., 2013). The difficulty with this situation is that many of them are left untreated, or do not undergo treatment. Thus, the prevention and remedies for alcohol abuse is not only a matter of diagnosis, but it is also about treating the alcohol abusing patients among active duty service members, and also among those in post-deployment stage.  

2.2. Comparative Analysis of Active Duty Military with the OVERALL POPULATION of the United States

Although not in similar excess trend with the military personnel, American civilians often resorts to binge drinking occasionally (Cucciare et al., 2015). Access drinking as a problem of the society has simply become a part of American culture, which is slowly degrading the public health and safety system. Even among civilians, alcoholism has always been the problem and the disease, making the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) since 1970 to identify ‘alcohol abuse’ as the main national health priorities (Cook, 2007).

Alcoholism related issues such as drunk driving, domestic violence, and other alcohol related abuse is nothing new to the American citizens. Thus, taking social context into perspective, the Americans suffer from innate propensity towards alcoholism, making alcohol consumption a part of their innate culture.

The abuse of alcohol among military and civilians has been acknowledged by the United States military department as having adverse effects on the user’s health and behavior, as well as to their civilian families. It is true that alcohol usage is considered illegal for those who are under the age of 21 in the country, but rampant availability of liquor continue to have negative impact on the functioning of the society as a whole.

This excess of alcohol consumptionhas always been fairly consistent and studies by Westermeyer & Kimbrel (2013) that heavy drinking among military men are always twice as much as military men, and military men also consumes four times higher than military women, while military women consumes twice as more than civilian women. Thus, civilians are as likely to develop alcohol consumption disorders as any military personnel.

Research by Bray et al., (1991) shows that while military people are more likely to consume more alcohol than the civilians, drugs and tobacco are consumed more by the civilians. Drinking within the military group is again higher with the younger military men and women, and even among civilians, intake of alcohol is higher among the younger men and women.

Civilians as well as military efforts to deal with alcohol and drug issues are also directed towards solving the issues of the younger people, so that alcoholic and addiction do not grow on them. Again, many of the military men who suffer from alcohol addiction are higher among unmarried men, which is similar to civilians (Bray et al., 1991). In fact, when demographic comparisons among the unmarried alcoholic men are taken up, addiction and alcohol rate consumption remains the same.

2.3. Treatments and Other Practical Remedies for the issues relevant to the Active Duty Military population

Given the alcohol availability, any military personnel become vulnerable to addiction and are put to risk. To solve the issues of alcohol related issues, several researchers, public health entities, host of government agencies, and laws are working together in the country. Prevention policies in terms of detecting drinking problem at an early stage, and holding specific intervention remains as the best remedy to cure alcoholism.

Treatment and practical remedies in regard to alcohol consumption should initially start with educating the population on how alcohol consumption can lead to risky behavior and how it is harmful to their health (O’Brien et al., 2013). In military department, such policies are enforced during the training process, although effective acknowledgement among the military unit remains inapplicable.

Standard drinking level, like the requirement of not exceeding 14 standard drinks per week for men and 7 drinks per week for women can be imposed or made known to the people, in order to avoid excess consumption (O’Brien et al., 2013). Among military personnel as well as the civilians, environmental strategies prevent alcohol problems remain effective.

These include, raising minimum legal drinking age (21); enforcing the legal minimum purchasing age; increasing taxes on alcoholic drinks; offering no discount to any alcohol beverages; and holding the liquor retailer to be responsible for any issues that comes out of alcoholic drinks (O’Brien et al., 2013). In the words of Cook (2007, p. 1), excess of alcohol consumption can be maneuvered by “both public and private, to reduce excess drinking directly – education, persuasion, counselling, treatment, sanctions of various sorts, [and by ] restricting availability or raising the price – licensing, product and sales regulation, liability rules, taxes, partial or complete bans”.

Owing to many alcohol related cases in military department, the department itself in the United States has also been undertaking comprehensive steps over the past many years to solve these complex issues. Certain legal measures have been taken up by the United States Government to control excess of alcohol consumption among US military personnel from 1980s onward.

This initially started with the Supreme Court of the country declaring in 1988 that the ‘Department of Veterans Affairs’ as not responsible towards paying benefits of alcoholic drinks for the military veterans, since such benefits always results into willful misconduct (O’Brien et al., 2013). In regard to the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) specifically, they offered series of policies that could help in controlling and preventing the use of alcohol.

The DoD’s effort started in 1970s, when the department passed “The Controlled Substances Act of 1970”, targeting to reduce the usage of drugs at the outset, and later towards smoking and tobacco consumption (Robert M. Bray, 2006). Later, the act also targeted the consumption of alcohol by detection at an early stage and undergoing intervention through law enforced testing (like the urinalysis testing program).

Since legal court disbanded this testing program, DoD later came up with a new measurement that stated that alcohol consumption does not live up to military performance standards (Bray, 2006; Harbertson et al., 2016). Vietnam War and it subsequent result like the prevention of the atrocious war memories that led to high substance abuse among war veterans led to the department to again re-enforced drug and alcohol testing, and emphasizing zero tolerance policies on alcohol and drugs while on duty (Robert M. Bray, 2006; Cook, 2007).

The turn of the millennium saw the DoD and its policies continuing to condemn alcohol abuse (binge or heavy), and other drugs usage, since such abuse brings down the health and the military readiness (active participation) of the military personnel, and since the country needs to maintain high standards of performance and discipline. All such measures are expected deployment military department to decrease their alcohol intake, and perform better as a unit.

3.      Finding and Conclusion

It is seen that alcohol abuse remains substantially common among the military personnel that requires stringent efforts on the part of the government (laws and acts), the DoD, medical institutions, and other individual and public efforts to solve and mitigate the issues. Since the Americans involvement in world politics has become popular and regular, military deployment and combat is expected to continue for the American military department.

Contextualizing such issues, the institutions and laws trying to prevent the abuse should use structured approach that will target the entire military populations of the country, and try to mitigate the issue. In this way, the risk to develop alcohol abuse and disorder emanating from such abuse becomes less relevant and less probable in nature. Taking a comprehensive approach to decrease alcohol abuse will allow the fostering of opportunities for military personnel during and after deployment in the field.

It also means that there will be more positive role models for the younger and older citizens to look up to, and also for their own military peer. These efforts to curb alcohol abuse are expected to make military personnel to appreciate and become culturally responsive to military lifestyles and structures.


Bray, R. M. (2006). Department of Defense survey of health related behaviors among active duty military personnel: A Component of the Defense Lifestyle Assessment Program. RTI International, (December), 1–307.

Bray, R. M., Marsden, M. E., & Peterson, M. R. (1991). Standardized comparisons of the use of alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes among military personnel and civilians. American Journal of Public Health, 81(7), 865–869.

Cook, P. J. (2007). Paying the Tab: The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Retrieved from…AUTHOR+PHILLIP+J.+COOK.&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Harbertson, BR, H., EY, A., NL, M., & PT, S. (2016). Pre-deployment Alcohol Misuse Among Shipboard Active-Duty U.S. Military Personnel. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 51(2), 185–194.

Larson, M. J., Mohr, B. A., Adams, R. S., Wooten, N. R., & Williams, T. V. (2014). Missed Opportunity for Alcohol Problem Prevention Among Army Active Duty Service Members Postdeployment. American Journal of Public Health, 104(8), 1402–1412.

Leskin, G. (2015). Preventing Substance Abuse in Military Members and Their Families. Prevention Tactics, 9(14), 1–10.

M.A., C., A.G., S., M.A., M., J.C., T., G.M., C., X, H., & B.M., B. (2015). Associations between deployment, military rank, and binge drinking in active duty and Reserve/National Guard US servicewomen. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 153, 37–42.

NIDA. (2011). Substance Abuse among the Military , Veterans , and their Families. National Institute on Drug Abuse, (April), 1–2.

O’Brien, C. P., Oster, M., & Morden, E. (2013). Substance Use Disorders in the U.S. Armed Forces. Washington DC: National Academy of Sciences.

Westermeyer, J., & Kimbrel, N. A. (2013). Substance Use Disorders Among Military Personnel. In B. A. Moore & J. E. Barnett (Eds.), Military Psychologists’ Desk Reference. New York: OUP USA.

Wooten, N. R. (2015). Military Social Work: Opportunities and Challenges for Social Work Education. Journal of Social Work Education, 51(1), S6–S25.

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