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Alcoholism in the Armed Forces

Alcoholism in the US Armed Forces is a significant problem that has changed very little in the last thirty years. In fact, serious alcohol problems have plagued American forces since the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Renowned General Ulysses S. Grant was even forced to resign from the US Army years before the Civil War began. It was only later that he was reappointed as an officer and went on to carve his place in history – despite battling alcohol problems until his death. (1) Today’s armed forces still struggle with alcoholism among service people, but there is one primary difference: modern soldiers are able to obtain professional alcohol rehab services. However, military life is generally not an environment that readily fosters or encourages such treatment.

Alcoholism, binge drinking and alcohol-related incidents in the military are such common problems that entire sections of the Uniform Code of Military Justice have been dedicated to deal with these issues. Article 111 regulates drunken or reckless operation of a vehicle, aircraft or vessel, while Article 112 deals with being drunk on duty. (2) The trouble with these regulations is that they are merely regulatory and punitive in nature and as such they do not make any provision to provide help to service members with alcoholism. As a result many in the military become extremely adept at hiding or masking their problem in order to avoid detection and possible consequences.

The military lifestyle is often directly associated with heavy and binge drinking. Soldiers and sailors are regularly subjected to long bouts of boredom, isolation from family and friends, and intense stress that many self-medicate with alcohol. Additionally, camaraderie in the military nearly always involves drinking of some sort, which further contributes to the idea that not only is heavy drinking acceptable – it’s a rite of passage and means of social bonding. This is evidenced by the high rates of heavy drinking by military personnel when compared with their civilian counterparts. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

“The prevalence of heavy alcohol use among young military personnel differs markedly from that of civilians in the same age group . . .”


“Of the young men in all branches of the military, 32.2 percent engaged in heavy drinking, compared with 17.8 percent of civilian men. Women serving in the Navy and the Marine Corps had significantly higher rates (11.5 percent and 12.9 percent, respectively) than civilian women (5.5 percent) . . .” (3)

These figures show that alcoholism is more prevalent in the military than in college, sports, entertainment or any other part of the civilian sector, clearly indicating that military life poses a significant threat of potential alcohol problems for many service people. But while there are programs available for veterans to receive alcohol rehab, those who are currently serving will most likely find that seeking treatment for a drug or alcohol problem could very easily damage or destroy their military career, thus preventing these people from getting the help they need.

If you or someone you know is a service member struggling with alcoholism, pick up the phone right now and call us for a free consultation. A soldier’s duty is always to his country, but if he neglects his own health and safety he simply cannot serve this purpose faithfully and diligently. Our Florida Alcohol Rehab center has staff standing by 24 hours per day to help advise you on how to get help. Call us now to find out.

(1) HistoryNet.com Ulysses S. Grant’s Lifelong Struggle with Alcohol 06/12/2006
(2) DoD, Uniform Code of Military Justice Congressional Code of Military Criminal Law Applicable to All Military Members Worldwide Article 111 and Article 112
(3) Genevieve Ames, Ph.D., and Carol Cunradi, M.P.H., Ph.D. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Alcohol Use and Preventing Alcohol-Related Problems Among Young Adults in the Military

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More