Alcohol Issues Often Arise Before Military Service, Study Finds

By Dorri Olds 05/17/16

A good portion of service members reported binge drinking right before deployment.

pre-deployment alcohol misuse

The cartoony drunken sailor isn’t funny anymore. Heavy drinking runs rampant in the armed forces—both during and after—but a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine points out there are plenty of alcohol problems before military deployment.

A team of researchers conducted a controlled study based on an anonymous survey. They wanted to investigate whether drinking behaviors among military personnel were already problematic before deployment. The study focused on the Navy and Marines within two weeks of deployment.

The test categorized different kinds of drinking: hazardous, binge, and dependent, based on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT-C): "hazardous alcohol misuse was defined using two cut-point scoring criteria: (1) ≥3 for women and ≥4 for men; and (2) ≥4 for women and ≥5 for men; binge drinking as ≥4 drinks for women and ≥5 drinks for men on a typical day in past 30 days; and dependent alcohol misuse as an AUDIT-C score of ≥8."

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs uses the AUDIT-C test as an alcohol screen that can help identify those who are hazardous drinkers or have active alcohol use disorders—including alcohol abuse or dependence.

The study’s subjects took the self-reporting test that asks three questions:

  1. How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?
  2. How many drinks do you have on a typical day when you are drinking?
  3. How often do you have six or more drinks on one occasion?

AUDIT-C is multiple-choice and each answer is assigned a number of points. This study analyzed data from 2014 to 2015. There were 2,351 subjects. Of those, 79% were male and 77% were between the ages of 17 and 29; 85% were in the Navy. More than half were white and 12% were under 21 years old.

The results showed that among 2,351 male and female shipboard personnel, 39%–54% screened positive for hazardous drinking, 27% for binge drinking, and 15% for dependent alcohol use. A larger proportion of the subjects who were ages 17 to 20 screened positive for dependent alcohol use compared with the overall study population.

The findings support that plenty of alcohol issues begin before deployment.

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Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and several book anthologies. Find Dorri on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.