Problems With Sleep Are Common and Predict Increased Risk for Alcohol and Drug Use Among Reserve and National Guard Soldiers

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2022 Jul;83(4):537-545. doi: 10.15288/jsad.2022.83.537.


Objective: Sleep problems are common among military members and may increase substance use risk. This study examines longitudinal associations between sleep problems and substance use among U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard (USAR/NG) soldiers as well as differences between current and former soldiers.

Method: Data are drawn from Operation: SAFETY (Soldiers and Families Excelling Through the Years), an ongoing prospective study of the health and well-being of USAR/NG soldiers and their spouses. We used generalized estimating equation models (N = 485 soldiers; 79.8% male) to examine residual change in substance use (alcohol problems, heavy drinking, current use of any drug, nonmedical use of prescription drugs [NMUPD], and illicit drugs) associated with sleep problems (globally and particular dimensions) over 3 years, controlling for probable post-traumatic stress disorder, age, sex, and substance use at the prior time point. Interaction models examined differences by military status (current vs. former soldier).

Results: Sleep problems were associated with increased risk of heavy drinking (p < .05), any current drug use (p < .05), current NMUPD (p < .01), and current illicit use (p < .05). There were significant interactions between sleep quality and military status on any current drug use (p < .01) and current illicit use (p < .05) and between sleep duration and military status on current NMUPD (p < .05), such that the risk of substance use was greater for former compared with current soldiers.

Conclusions: Sleep problems are prevalent among USAR/NG soldiers and are longitudinally associated with alcohol and drug use. This risk may increase for soldiers who have separated from the military. These findings support routine screening for sleep problems among soldiers and predischarge education around substance use risks related to unaddressed sleep problems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Military Personnel*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sleep
  • Sleep Wake Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology