New Soldiers’ Alcohol Abuse Linked to Mental Disorders

LA JOLLA, CA— Problem drinking that predates enlistment into military service might be a contributor to the overall burden of alcohol misuse and mental disorders in the U.S. Armed Forces, but evidence remains somewhat limited.

To help remedy that situation, an Army STARRS study published recently in the journal Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research looks at prevalence and correlates of alcohol misuse among new U.S. Army soldiers.1

Researchers from the University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD, and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional survey data of soldiers reporting for basic combat training.

The survey retrospectively assessed lifetime alcohol consumption and substance abuse/dependence, enabling estimation of the prevalence of lifetime binge drinking and heavy drinking in a sample of 30,583 soldiers and of probable alcohol use disorder (AUD) among 26,754 soldiers with no/minimal lifetime use of other drugs.

The researchers also examined co-occurrence of mental disorders and other adverse outcomes with binge drinking, heavy drinking, and AUD.  

Results indicated a weighted prevalence of lifetime binge drinking of 27.2% among males and 18.9% among females, with estimates for heavy drinking of 13.9% and 9.4%, respectively. Among soldiers with no/minimal drug use, 9.5% of males and 7.2% of females had lifetime AUD, according to the report.

Study authors pointed out that, relative to no alcohol misuse, binge drinking, heavy drinking, and AUD were associated with increased odds of all mental disorders and other adverse outcomes under consideration for an adjusted odds ratio [AORs] of 1.5 to 4.6.

Prior mental disorders and suicidal ideation were associated with onset of AUD with AORs of 2.3 to 2.8, and prior AUD was associated with onset of mental disorders and suicidal ideation with AORs of 2.0 to 3.2.

“Strong bidirectional associations between alcohol misuse and mental disorders were observed in a cohort of soldiers beginning Army service,” the researchers concluded. “Conjoint recognition of alcohol misuse and mental disorders upon enlistment may provide opportunities for risk mitigation early in a soldier’s career.”

  1. Stein MB, Campbell-Sills L, Gelernter J, He F, Heeringa SG, et. al. Army STARRS Collaborators. Alcohol Misuse and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders Among New Soldiers in the U.S. Army. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2017 Jan;41(1):139-148. doi: 10.1111/acer.13269. PubMed PMID: 27883222; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5205544.

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