The armed forces have always had a drinking culture but new numbers from the MoD show just how dangerous that culture has become. Over 1,600 military personnel needed medical treatment for alcohol abuse in the past year alone.
This year marks the highest number of British military personnel seeking treatment since the MoD began keeping track in 2007. The number rose by 28% from 2012 to 2013 alone. Those who needed help were treated for a number of problems including heart problems, alcohol poisoning, liver disease and alcoholic psychosis.
The MoD claim that this new increase is down to their new system of recording alcohol misuse. That would imply that what appears to be a spike in alcohol abuse is really just a revelation that the armed forces have a serious and long standing alcohol problem.
In the past five years there have been a huge number of soldiers receiving treatment for the psychiatric problems around alcohol abuse. Furthermore, "The numbers presented for UK armed forces personnel with psychoactive substance abuse for alcohol should be regarded as a minimum," the MoD said.
The military’s alcohol problem goes beyond addiction and abuse, more than 4,000 service men and women have received some form of punishment for being intoxicated since 2009. Many of these people were caught while on duty which means they could have been putting other personnel’s safety at risk.
The MoD acknowledged that many of the problems they are having with alcohol may be due to the increased stress put on the British Armed Forces. PTSD, survivor’s guilt and traumatic brain injury along with a host of other battlefield ailments can take their toll on soldiers and increase their likelihood of abusing alcohol.
While some in the military are pushing for more to be done to combat drinking in the military, the damage may already be done. Younger soldiers are the most likely to drink with one in four 18 to 24 year olds in the army admitting to harmful drinking. These drinking habits do not simply vanish after deployments or once someone leaves the service. That means there is a whole group of people who have already picked up dangerous drinking practices that will bring those problems into their civilian lives.
PTSD alone significantly increases a person’s risk of developing an alcohol or drug addiction.
It may take a complete overhaul of the military’s approach to alcohol before this problem is solved. Until then, the MoD will continue to see large numbers of personnel falling prey to alcohol abuse.