U.S. Military Imposes New Regulations Aimed at Reducing Binge Drinking

The U.S. military has introduced a number of measures aimed at reducing binge drinking, NBC News reports. Service members and addiction specialists say alcohol abuse in the military is widespread.

Initiatives include a program to give random breathalyzer tests to Marine Corps members; bans on some overnight liquor sales for U.S. military personnel in Germany; and a rule barring American service members in Japan from leaving their residences after having more than one alcoholic beverage.

The new rules come several months after the Institute of Medicine published a report that found binge drinking in the military increased from 35 percent in 1998, to 47 percent a decade later. According to the report, substance abuse among members of the U.S. military and their families has become a public health crisis. The Defense Department’s approaches to preventing and treating substance abuse are outdated, the report states.

Dr. Charles P. O’Brien, chairman of the panel that wrote the report, and Director of the Center for Studies of Addiction at the University of Pennsylvania, told NBC News the panel found there is only one doctor in the entire U.S. Army trained in addiction medicine. “This is a specialty where we need more people and they’re not there,” he said. “So, most people are not getting treated with evidence-based medicine.”

The report recommended the military’s health system, called TRICARE, change its rules to allow members struggling with substance abuse to be treated with anti-addiction medications such as Suboxone. O’Brien said he has learned that the suggestion has not yet been implemented.

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    December 14, 2012 at 2:52 PM

    I wonder what the other ‘initiatives’ are? When I was binge drinking, I can’t think of anything that would have stopped me unless I could have somehow overcome the strong anxiety that pervaded my work, the main part of my life. It’s possible that a random breathalyzer test on a few Mon mornings might have caught me. Or maybe not. Even though I was drunk every Fri and Sat night, and some Sun’s, on most Mon’s I could have passed. Of course, one failed test might have wrecked my career. The comment about the commissary is right. We know that increasing the price, decreases the use, especially for teens and those on a tight budget. Anyway, I hope that well-intentioned folks will find success in these efforts.

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    Doug McDowall

    December 14, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    The commissary system across the military heavily promotes tax-free booze and cigarettes as a ‘benefit’ for active duty and retired personnel and their family members. The loss of state & local tax revenues is tremendous in communities near military installations as a result of this policy. We now have a well-paid all volunteer force, and no longer have troops serving in remote areas on the frontier in the US without any shopping facilities as was the case in the 1800’s when the commissary system was started. Considering the number of patients being treated for alcohol abuse and smoking related diseases in the VA system do taxpayers need to pay all of the costs to operate these stores any longer? Wouldn’t local businesses and governments as well as the US taxpayer benefit greatly if they were all shut down?

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    Chudley Edward Werch, PhD

    December 13, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    These policies are a step in the right direction. Now what is now needed is training to help US Military personnel develop positive self-images and self-regulation skills associated with developing healthy behaviors such as engaging in regular physical activity while avoiding binge drinking that interferes with positive image and behavior achievement.
    Chudley Werch, PhD

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    December 13, 2012 at 2:13 AM

    As a 29 yr veteran of working with the Army’s substance abuse program, I can tell you of the frustration of our own staff and leadership. A recruiter for our program went to the NASW annual conference, 3000 attendees, and returned with ONE resume. Our program is manned by masters-prepared civilians with advanced SA certifications, we have been provided both evidence-based training and resources, but when you have no staff, it’s hard to implement any comprehensive program. I’m in Europe, covering 3 communities, 2 hours apart, have been trying to get staff for 6 months in one; in another a foolish decision was made initially not to extend assignments. With bases closing and no extensions, people leave to find a permanent job in the States, and positions go unfilled. Realizing the need for clinical staff, the local commanders reversed their decisions, and the top brass hammer to get people hired, but the process is not user friendly, and we lost a new recruit into the system because it gave time for her present employer to think twice about losing her. Meanwhile, the soldiers have serious co-occuring disorders due to multiple deployments, and have a very high acuity, and the culture promotes abusive drinking. I stay only because I love working with our Soldiers, but retirement is starting to look better and better. If you want to help, check USAjobs.gov

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    December 12, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    Here we go again. In the 70’s the military in general, but especially the Navy, had some of the more effective response to the alcohol problem along the full continuum of care. Having been involved with this effort for ten years and the research and evaluation efforts that were created to ensure efficacy was impressive. However, like all good creative efforts the Navy tried to merge the programs created for the drug “problem” with the alcohol effort before the research was complete on the issues. I was privilege to visit with the CNO and have him come to visit the ARC in San Diego and, at that time, we warned the CNO that differences, especially with the “harder” drugs (excluded cannabis), that needed further investigation. We also advised him that a “War on Drugs”, without including alcohol, would just drive drinking up. In fact, in the several weeks between my visit and his visit the sales in the base liquor store trebeled. So, let’s hope this time lessons learned will be taken into account as they role this effort out.

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