We’ve talked about veterans' alcohol abuse, but heavy alcohol use in the military is a separate, common, and growing issue. Military personnel often turn to drinking during deployment to cope with stress, boredom, loneliness, and simply the lack of other recreational activities. Factors like the accessibility to alcohol, ritualized drinking opportunities, and inconsistent military alcohol policy all contribute to a work environment that supports heavy alcohol use and binge drinking. By understanding the characteristics of alcoholism in the military, we can raise awareness and help service members find the support they need.
A misunderstanding or lack of clarity in policy is a major contributing factor to military alcohol abuse. So while drinking on the job is discouraged in the military, what rules are set in place to back this up? According to the U.S. Department of the Army, while alcohol consumption during deployment is discouraged, it is not illegal.
Military personnel must be at least 21 years of age and receive approval from their Commanding General or Chief of Staff to drink and serve alcohol at social gatherings during normal hours. However, many service members are quite often given the freedom to drink on base during their “off” hours. Additionally, service members cannot bring privately purchased alcohol into any on-post facility that serves alcohol.1
They may, however, bring lawfully imported, duty-free alcoholic drinks for special occasions with approval. Prohibited acts concerning alcohol use in the military include:1
Despite the strict rules set in place, alcohol abuse statistics in the military are staggering. The U.S. Military was once America’s heaviest-drinking profession, according to one particular survey. One review of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey data from 2013 to 2017 found that troops spend more days a year drinking alcohol than people in any other profession. Findings also suggested that military service members also binge-drink more, consuming at least four or five alcoholic drinks a day in one sitting at least 41 days a year.2,3
But what’s the cause? Well, alcohol and stress in the military go hand-in-hand, along with boredom and a lack of other activities. It’s not uncommon for military personnel to find themselves drinking as they enter deployment, spend months at a time away from their loved ones, and expose themselves to trauma. While drinking during deployment is discouraged, many personnel drink in groups with their comrades in social settings to celebrate their combat victories.
As more and more alcohol is consumed, a dependency may develop. For many active-duty military members, this dependency eventually worsens and develops into a full-blown substance use disorder. In addition to stress, boredom, and separation from loved ones, social pressures to bury emotions and “be tough” also encourage many active military members to cope with negative emotions by drinking.
Mental illness also plays a major role in substance abuse, in general. Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are the most common mental health disorders in the military, each of which is marked by symptoms that are often challenging to manage. Alcohol has also been long linked to ideas of masculinity and power, and there’s a significant history of service members being pressured to keep up with the rate of alcohol consumption displayed by their superiors and peers.
It also normalizes stress coping mechanisms, and service members often gather after work or in between high-stress tasks to drink. Those who find themselves more frequently in war zones and amid combat or far away from home for long periods are more likely to use alcohol as an emotional crutch.
Not only is military discharge for alcohol abuse possible, but service members who prioritize drinking are also more likely to struggle with their mental and physical health and have strained relationships with their loved ones and coworkers. If you or someone you care about is a military service member who is struggling to stop drinking on their own, don’t wait any longer to reach out for help.
Our Military and Veterans in Recovery program at Banyan offers various levels of care, including alcohol addiction treatment, for both active-duty members and veterans. We usually start clients with medically assisted detox to manage withdrawals and increase their chances of completing their programming.
Throughout their time at our military rehab center, clients will have the opportunity to work with therapists and sponsors individually and in group settings to heal personally from their addictions and receive support from others in the recovery community.