Military has growing drinking problem
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Military Has a Growing Drinking Problem
Mar 8, 4:46 PM (ET)
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly one in five members of the U.S. armed forces is a heavy drinker, according to a Pentagon survey released on Monday that showed a growing alcohol problem in the American military.
The survey, conducted in the fall of 2002, showed a rise in heavy drinking compared to the most recent similar survey in 1998 as well as increases in the use of illicit drugs and cigarette smoking -- the first such gains in two decades.
The survey was based on responses by about 12,500 members of the armed services.
Heavy drinking was most acute among men and younger service members, officials said. The survey's findings were announced two weeks after Pentagon officials said many of the cases under investigation of sexual assaults by men in the military against their female comrades may be linked to alcohol abuse.
The survey found that 18.1 percent of respondents said they engaged in heavy drinking, defined as consuming at least five alcoholic drinks at one time at least once a week, compared to 15.4 percent in the 1998 study. It found that 19.4 percent of men in the military and 5.3 percent of women were classified as heavy drinkers.
"It's an individual behavior, obviously," William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told a Pentagon briefing.
"Unlike the issue of illegal drug abuse, we can't police people and their behaviors, and force them not to drink heavily or to binge drink," Winkenwerder added.
Winkenwerder said the Pentagon leadership had "a high-level of awareness" of the need to send a message that heavy drinking "can impact upon you adversely in terms of your family, your personal life, your productivity, your career."
Heavy drinking was associated with a drop in productivity and an increase in stress and symptoms of depression, the survey found.
Robert Bray, who directed the survey, said it found that 27.3 percent of U.S. service members ages 18-25 were heavy drinkers, compared to 15.3 percent of the general U.S. population in the same age group. Bray said for ages 26 and above, the percentage of heavy drinkers in the military was only marginally higher than the general population.
The survey found that 41.8 percent of military personnel admitted to consuming five alcoholic drinks at one occasion at least once in the previous month, compared to 16.6 for the general population.
The Marines Corps had the highest rate of drinking among any of the military services, with the Air Force the lowest.
The survey found that 3.4 percent of respondents admitted to using an illicit drug, such as marijuana or cocaine, in the past month and 6.9 percent in the past year. The 1998 survey found that 2.7 percent had used drugs in the previous month and 6.0 percent in the previous year.
This was the time an increase was found in illicit drug use since the military began a series of period health surveys in 1980 but the Pentagon downplayed the rise as not statistically significant.
For the first time since the 1982 survey, cigarette smoking increased in the military, with 33.8 percent saying they had smoked in the past month. That compared to 29.9 percent in 1998.