Background: Evidence suggests that military personnel consume considerable amounts of alcohol which may have both medical and occupational implications.
Aim: To compare alcohol consumption and misuse within the Royal Navy (RN) to that in the civilian population.
Methods: The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Consumption (AUDIT-C) questionnaire is a short measure of alcohol use disorders. It was administered to 1333 male RN personnel from operational naval units. 'Heavy' drinking was defined as consuming >21 units/week, 'very heavy' as >42 units/week, binge drinking as >8 units in one session and 'problem' drinkers as those advised to cut down in the last year. The study also measured psychological health using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ)-12 and post-traumatic stress disorder checklist for civilians (PCL-C).
Results: The response rate was 70%. The majority (92%) scored as hazardous drinkers on the AUDIT-C, 40% met the criteria for heavy drinking, 27% for very heavy drinking, 48% reported binge drinking at least once a week and 15% were classed as problem drinkers. Heavy drinking was associated with younger age, lower rank and higher scores for both PCL and GHQ. All results were substantially higher than in age-matched civilian samples.
Conclusions: Excessive alcohol consumption, especially binge drinking, is significantly more prevalent in the RN than in the general population. Such high levels of drinking are likely to impact upon occupational efficiency and have both short-term and long-term health effects. We suggest that more needs to be done to deter excessive levels of consumption in order to avoid long-term health consequences.