Alcohol Abuse In the Military

Last Updated on August 10, 2023

According to a recent analysis of survey data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), military members drink more than workers in any other job.1 These results aren’t all that surprising, as the evidence reports what has already been known for years: the military culture is one of alcohol abuse and members struggling with alcohol use disorder is nothing new.Studies have indicated that there are high rates of childhood trauma among people with addictions. Now, recent research findings have revealed more insight into the impact of these experiences and their effects on addictive behaviors.

But, what are the factors that contribute to alcohol abuse in the military, what kind of impact does it have on active military personnel and veterans, and what kind of treatment will help? In this blog, we’ll review these questions to give you more insight into alcohol abuse in the military.

Related blog: Are Partners of Alcoholics More Likely to Become Alcoholics Themselves?

How Common Is Alcohol Abuse In the Military?

Research indicates the rampant misuse of alcohol is very common in the military. According to a report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a substantial proportion of U.S. military personnel binge drink (consume five or more drinks on one or more occasions per week). Additionally, military men are nearly 3.5 times more likely to report frequent heavy drinking compared with women in the military. Compared to individuals of higher rank, such as officers, military personnel with the lowest rankings were six times more likely to drink heavily frequently.2

Other studies cited by the NIAAA have found that heavy drinking is more likely to occur among younger military members. Rates of heavy drinking were significantly higher among male military personnel that were 18 to 25-years old (32.2 percent) compared with male civilians of the same age (17.8 percent). Similar rates of heavy drinking applied to women in the service compared to much lower rates among female civilians (5.5 percent).2

Causes of Alcohol Abuse In the Military

Alcohol use disorder is caused by a variety of factors and may include:

  • Self-medicating for mental health and behavioral disorders that may have developed while in combat or during service: Military-related stress may be one of the causes of alcohol abuse in the military. Alcohol misuse frequently occurs among a substantial proportion of combat veterans. According to one study, of 88,235 veterans returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom, 12 to 15 percent of veterans had problematic alcohol use in the 3 to 6 months following their return from combat.2 As a result, many active service members and veterans may use alcohol to self-medicate for military-related stress, PTSD, depression, or other mental health disorders.
  • Challenges of the military nomadic lifestyle: Military life can be very stressful and unpredictable, especially for military members with families and children. Additionally, the nomadic lifestyle can make it difficult to create and maintain social connections, leading to a lack of support. Not surprisingly, this can cause relationship conflicts and contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Difficulty adjusting to life outside of the military: Many veterans have difficulties adjusting to civilian life after deployment. Also, mental health disorders like PTSD can cause symptoms like anxiety, depression, night terrors, and flashbacks, which makes veterans more vulnerable to alcohol abuse and addiction.
  • Military drinking culture: It’s no secret that alcohol plays a prominent role in military culture and binge drinking has been normalized as a way of dealing with the stresses of military life and high-stress duties. However, this contributes to dangerous binge drinking, a problematic relationship with alcohol, and higher rates of sexual assault, as well as other problematic behavioral problems and mental health issues.

How Does Alcohol Abuse Impact Active Military Personnel and Veterans?

Alcohol abuse directly affects active military members, veterans, and their families in negative ways. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), several critical issues are related to substance abuse in the military, including:3

  • Mental health disorders like depression, PTSD, and anxiety
  • Physical health problems and alcohol-related illnesses
  • Increased suicide risk
  • Increased risk of homelessness, trauma, and sexual abuse
  • Difficulty dealing with chronic pain

Despite the impact of alcohol use, however, 68% of active-duty troops said they perceived the military culture as being supportive of drinking, and 42% said their supervisor doesn’t discourage alcohol use, according to the Health Related Behaviors Survey (HRBS).1

Alcoholism Treatment for Service Members

Alcohol abuse is a serious health concern that negatively affects all aspects of life for service members and their loved ones. Having access to effective and accessible treatment is key to providing these individuals with routes to recovery and protecting them from the life-long damage caused by alcohol addiction.

The following evidence-based treatment methods for alcohol use disorder can help service members overcome their addiction:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: During rehab, addiction treatment professionals use cognitive behavioral therapy to help clients identify negative thinking patterns and behaviors that have contributed to their alcohol use disorder, and change them to live a happier, healthier life.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a type of therapy that is used to treat trauma and PTSD. It’s frequently used alongside cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help clients process and resolve traumatic memories and emotions. It also helps clients manage these memories and emotions in a healthy way instead of trying to cope by using drugs and alcohol. 
  • Family program: Some rehab programs provide family programming to help military members and their loved ones learn about the disease of addiction, explore family roles and address family conflict, develop healthy communication skills and boundaries, and begin the healing process following addiction. At Nova Recovery Center, we offer this type of family program.
  • Mind/body practices: Certain mind/body practices like yoga and meditation can help clients deal with things like chronic pain due to injury in service. It can also help them learn how to cope with stress, anxiety, and may also relieve symptoms of depression.

Related blog: The Three Stages of Alcoholism

Start Healing Today at Nova Recovery Center

If military life or military-related stress has contributed to your or a loved one’s alcohol abuse, Nova Recovery Center is here to help with companionate and individualized addiction treatment services. Please call (888) 427-4932 or contact us online to get started with an alcohol addiction treatment program.


  1. https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/04/11/us-military-americas-heaviest-drinking-profession-survey-finds.html 
  2. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arcr344/401-407.htm
  3. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/substance-use-military-life

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