Why Military Service Personnel Have High Rates of Alcohol Consumption and How to Seek Treatment

The military is a unique organization, a place where men and women serve together for the betterment of the country. They give up their time with families and loved ones to train in service to others.

While alcohol consumption is not permitted openly, behind closed doors, there is still drinking happening. Privately, military personnel are struggling with alcohol abuse and binge drinking behavior but remain worried about the impact on their careers and friends they serve alongside.

Find out more about the consumption of alcohol in the military and how to help a loved one seek treatment.


Why it Happens

Deemed a ‘public health crisis,’ military men and women drink on weekends and, sometimes, on weeknights for different reasons. War zones are not immune to the drinking culture, where it may be hidden inside mouthwash bottles or handed to troops after a battle in a warzone.

Stress is part of being in the military, whether or not it is a war zone. Military life means being away from family and loved ones for extended periods of time.

There is less connection to life back home when they are serving the frontlines. While it is important to work, it can take a toll after a while.

Some service personnel has served multiple tours of duty in warzones, where the things they saw can take a toll emotionally and physically. Self-medication is probably among the highest reason for drinking behavior, to cope with depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues.


Decompression Time

Service branches have steps they can take to identify and address substance use disorder. Troops and families may be asked when they check in with their medical support staff about drinking behavior.

This is a great time to find out what behavior is affecting them but don’t expect them to be honest about it. Fear of stigma, shame, and worries about their careers can keep military men and women from coming clean, even with a doctor.

Marine Corps is looking into random alcohol testing for Marines to determine the fitness of duty due to drinking behavior. Now there is more support for mental health than in previous years or decades.

Older veterans can attest to the fact that their military service trauma and challenges probably flew under the radar for many years or decades before it felt ‘safe’ to come clean about the struggles they faced. Not having much downtime, too much time in war zones, and spending a lot of time in towns where there is little else to do but drink alcohol with friends can put military men and women at higher risk.


Connection and Bonding Time

While the military has tried to create shifts over connection and bonding time to replace alcohol, it is hard to change a culture.

Officers, co-workers, and commanders are there to keep an eye on things but also build unit cohesion and let off some steam. For a while, this culture has continued to permeate military life.

While it is changing, some of it is happening in secret, behind closed doors, which builds secrecy and keeps people with addiction from seeking necessary help. To connect with each other, there have been more non-alcoholic events to bond with one another.

These are people with whom they spend a lot of time together and it is important they focus on how the group can benefit from sober fun rather than doing things involving alcohol.


Helping Military Personnel

The percentage of active-duty personnel who report binge-drinking behavior is still relatively high. Diagnoses of dependency and substance abuse are going down currently, with levels reportedly being lower than ever before.

There are more options for Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment programs that clinically focus on addiction within the military and assist them with the support they did not have in the past. With this in mind, specific treatment programs should focus on helping servicemen and women get treatment for addiction while focusing on mental health concerns.

Military sexual trauma, abuse, and PTSD are more real than ever, along with physical injuries that result in chronic pain. Chronic pain management may be necessary for people with addiction who also need help for their addiction to painkillers and opioids. 


Finding What Works

Treatment programs can consist of many things, but one of the ways that work is to find supportive outpatient programming that works with people’s schedules. This helps them retain a life outside of treatment, but still, be focused on recovery and healing.

Family therapy and group work are important. In a setting with other veterans and first responders, oftentimes military personnel thrive on recovery with others who ‘get the journey’ of being in the military.

Since it is a unique experience, they may thrive on growing and pushing themselves when they have others who are there with previous experience serving. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), chronic pain management, and other elements of treatment have proven to be helpful for military personnel, with a focus on veteran’s service backgrounds and needs.

Every individual should have their own care plan, along with aftercare plans, that keep them connected to the community and support they’re staying in the military, if possible, or transitioning to civilian life more safely while staying sober.

While not an easy transition to take on, treatment is necessary for many military personnel to receive the help they need. When they are with professionals who understand what they’ve experienced, along with family and other service members, they often find hope in recovery where they struggled before. Hope and healing are connected, with relationships in the community the glue that binds them together.


Forge is a place to come and recover your life from addiction. We focus on helping military men and women, along with First Responders, seek help for addiction. It takes real courage to ask for help. To get started, call today: 1-888-224-7312