Why Army Reserve Soldiers Should Be Screened for Alcoholism

Military deployment is a major risk factor for alcohol use disorder. According to a study published in JAMA, soldiers sent to active combat zones experience “significantly increased risk for new-onset heavy weekly drinking, binge drinking, and other alcohol-related problems.” However, new research reveals that members of the Army Reserve are also predisposed to alcoholism – even if they never saw combat. Worse yet, their substance use disorders may remain undetected due to poor screening policies.

The Connection Between Deployment and Alcoholism

Why do veterans who were deployed develop alcohol use disorder? While on a tour of duty, members of the military experience incredible trauma and loss. They lose friends in the line of duty, take lives, and fear for their own safety every day. Simply put, military deployment is a recipe for lifelong trauma.

These stressors can be overwhelming. To cope, many soldiers drink heavily. This behavior is so widespread that it has become a de facto culture within the military. While alcohol is prohibited within military zones, it is easy enough for soldiers to go off-base or even smuggle beverages into the camp.

If alcohol is a way to overcome the trauma of an active war zone, why are reserve soldiers at risk?

Alcohol Use Disorder in the Reserves

Researchers Rachel Hoopsick, Bonnie Vest, D. Lynn Homish, and Gregory Homish recently released a study examining this phenomenon. They analyzed the prevalence of self-reported alcohol screenings and DSM-IV criteria for alcohol abuse in more than 4,000 soldiers from all backgrounds. Participants served in various reserve organizations, which include the National Guard, the Air National Guard of the United States, the Army Reserve, the Coast Guard Reserve, the Navy Reserve, the Marine Corps Reserve, and the Air Force Reserve.

Using regression models, the researchers were able to compare the responses of reservists and deployed veterans. Surprisingly, there was no difference in alcohol consumption between never-activated reserve members and those who were deployed. Both groups are at equal risk for substance use disorder.

There are a few reasons why reservists may develop an alcohol use disorder:

  • The heavy-drinking culture of the towns surrounding military bases
  • Discounted beverages for current and former members of the military
  • The stigma of asking for help
  • Anxiety about potential deployment
  • Fear of retaliation for heavy alcohol consumption
  • Lack of confidentiality when seeking assistance

Alcohol use may begin casually – grabbing drinks with friends, partying in one’s free time, or de-stressing after a long day. For some, this can turn into a substance use disorder. Those who may have sought help tend to hesitate because of the military’s strong policies surrounding substance use. They may see treatment as detrimental to their career, even though this isn’t the case. For this reason, a budding dependency may evolve into a full-blown addiction.

Why Veterans of the Reserves Should Be Screened

The researchers identified a troubling trend: 15% of veterans reported that they had never been screened for alcohol use, even though 1 in 11 participants met the criteria for alcohol abuse. Even though both groups were at equal risk for substance use disorder, the active duty veterans were much more likely to be screened than their reservist counterparts. The authors posit that treatment providers may not acknowledge reserve soldiers as “true veterans,” and for this reason forego screenings associated with deployment.

The study’s authors conclude by recommending that all veterans should be screened for alcohol use disorder, regardless of their past deployment status. This would increase the likelihood of identifying and treating alcoholism before it can advance to more serious stages.

Signs of Alcoholism

If you know someone in the military, you understand the risks they face each day. While your loved one might have accepted a “safe” post in the Reserves or the National Guard, they may have developed a problem with alcohol – even if they have never been deployed. We recommend reading over these symptoms of alcoholism. Do any of these items seem familiar?

Common symptoms of alcoholism include:

  • Difficulty maintaining responsibilities (at home or work)
  • Exhibiting risky behavior after drinking (like sexual promiscuity, fighting, or driving)
  • Developing a higher tolerance for alcohol
  • Continuing to drink despite negative interpersonal or health-related consequences
  • For men: drinking 4+ standard drinks each day, or 14+ each week
  • For women: drinking 3+ standard drinks per day, or 7+ per week
  • Having more drinks (or drinking for longer) than intended
  • Spending a lot of time getting alcohol, drinking, or recovering from drinking
  • Abandoning hobbies to drink more
  • Withdrawal symptoms (headache, insomnia, shaking, sweating, cravings)

Does your loved one check more than one of these boxes? Contact The Last Resort for information about treatment for alcoholism.

How to Tell If Someone is Drunk

Some younger military spouses may not know what a drunk person looks like. As alcohol passes the blood-brain barrier, it quickly affects the body. A person who is intoxicated can’t think clearly. They seem confused and might be unable to remember things. You may hear them slur their words or see them struggle with fine motor tasks (like opening another beer or texting). They do or say things that aren’t in line with their personality or values. Your spouse may even seem to become an entirely different person – some individuals are “goofy” under the influence, while others may turn violent. If you are concerned about your significant other, contact our admissions office to learn more about treatment options.

If you have been abused by your significant other while they were under the influence, call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to reach a trained crisis interventionist affiliated with RAINN.

Addiction Help for Military Families

We understand the incredible sacrifices made by all members of the Armed Forces. That’s why The Last Resort Recovery has created a program for military men with alcoholism. If you are concerned about your drinking or know someone who needs help, we are just a phone call away. Contact The Last Resort to learn more about addiction treatment tailored to the needs of reserve soldiers, those who have deployed, and veterans.