Background: Understanding the effectiveness of policies and programs aimed at combating substance abuse in the military requires comparison with the civilian population from which military personnel are drawn.
Methods: Standardized comparisons of the use of alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes among military personnel and civilians were conducted with data from the 1985 Worldwide Survey of Alcohol and Nonmedical Drug Use among Military Personnel and the 1985 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. The two data sets were equated for age and geographic location of respondents, and civilian substance use rates were standardized to reflect the sociodemographic distribution of the military.
Results: Military personnel were significantly less likely than civilians to use drugs, but were significantly more likely to use alcohol and cigarettes and to engage in heavy use of alcohol and cigarettes. Heavy drinking was especially likely among young military men. Military women were similar to military men in their smoking and drug use patterns.
Conclusions: Findings suggest that military policies and programs have been notably effective in reducing drug use, but that efforts to limit alcohol and cigarette use should be intensified. Military efforts directed against alcohol abuse should be targeted toward younger men, while smoking and drug prevention programs should be directed toward both men and women.