Military service and alcohol-fueled tales of grandeur, as well as the tales of pure stupidity and recklessness, seem to go hand in hand. What some would call alcohol abuse, others would call a normal Friday night. The relationship between alcohol usage and the military cannot be overstated. I had just arrived at my new unit, fresh from eight months of training, over the course of which I had not had alcohol at all. My unit had just returned from a pretty rough deployment to Afghanistan, and it was the start of a four day weekend. The atmosphere was ripe for bad decisions, some that would end careers, and others that would end lives.

I would see this story play out almost every weekend over the course of my enlistment. Some weekends would not be so bad, maybe a DUI or two. Other weekends would see entire platoons and companies shook to their very core, at the loss of a Brother or Sister.

With high operation tempos overseas, long working hours, stress in abundance, boredom, or just plain enjoyment, it is no surprise that service-members in very high amounts turn to alcohol, to cope, or simply blow off some steam. This symbiotic relationship between the military and alcohol can be seen from outside the military as well. Many popular veteran companies push content celebrating the over-consumption of alcohol on a regular basis, the Instagram accounts full of Jameson hashtags, and the weekends never remembered.

This is not just a small issue in the military; this is an epidemic.  The issue of alcohol and the negative effects it has in the military transcends all branches of the service; it is a problem that sees massive deterioration of the armed forces as a whole.

In the most recent data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it is noted that:

  • Overconsumption of alcohol cost the U.S. Military $1.12 billion per year
  • Military medical costs associated with alcohol-related issues cost $425 million per year
  • Over 34,400 arrest occurred annually as a result of excessive consumption, half of which came from DUI’s
  • Nearly 10,400 active duty personnel were unable to deploy as a result of alcohol issues each year
  • 2,200 members annually are separated from service duty because of alcohol-related incidents.

There are programs in each branch of service geared towards helping those service members suffering from alcohol and other substance abuse issues. However, these programs have been reported to be understaffed and underfunded, leading to long waits for those seeking treatment. Many of those service members seeking help are turned away because they do not have a documented history of alcohol abuse.

The stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse in the military is a major issue preventing those suffering from getting the help they deserve and need. Members of the military still see a PTSD diagnosis as a limiting factor from getting many jobs on the civilian side. Others see self-referring themselves to an alcohol abuse program as a career-ending decision. Coupling mental health issues and ineffectual alcohol abuse programs will only lead to further problems for the U.S. Military.

There is growing evidence to suggest the correlation between PTSD and increased use of alcohol to self-medicate, in order to relieve symptoms. Studies have shown that 14-22% of service members returning from OEF and OIF have been diagnosed with PTSD, with the true numbers most likely much higher. The issue of alcohol and its relationship to deteriorated force readiness must continue to be forefront in the discussion of how to better optimize the overall effectiveness of the U.S. Military.