Alcohol use in the military: associations with health and wellbeing

Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy. 2015 Jul 28;10:27. doi: 10.1186/s13011-015-0023-4.


Background: This study assessed the extent to which alcohol consumption in a military group differed from the general population, and how alcohol affected the military group's health and social functioning.

Methods: A cross sectional survey of military personnel (n = 5311) collected self-reported data on alcohol use (AUDIT scale) and general health, role limitations because of physical health problems (role physical), and social functioning scores (SF36 subscales). Logistic regression was used to compare drinking behaviours between the military sample and a general population sample, using the categories risky drinkers (>2 units per day), low risk drinkers (≤2 standard drinks per day) and abstainers. Groups in the military sample with the highest levels of alcohol misuse (harmful drinking AUDIT ≥ 16, alcohol dependence AUDIT ≥ 20, and binge drinking) were also identified. Linear regression models were then used to assess the association between alcohol misuse and SF36 scores.

Results: There were fewer risky drinkers in the military sample than in the general population sample. There were also fewer abstainers, but more people who drank at a lower risk level (≤2 standard drinks per day), than in a sample of the general population. Harmful drinking and alcohol dependence were most commonly observed in men, younger age groups, non-commissioned officers and lower ranks as well as reserve and ex-serving groups. Alcohol misuse was clearly associated with poorer general health scores, more role limitations because of physical health problems, and lower social functioning.

Conclusions: Although risky drinking was lower in the military group than in the general population, drinking was associated with poorer health, more limitations because of physical health problems, and poorer social functioning in Defence members. These results highlight the potential benefits for Defence forces in reducing alcohol use among members, in both those groups identified at highest risk, and across the military workforce as a whole.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Report
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors