Binge Drinking in the Military Epidemic

Introduction

It is 2019, and you are in your living room following your favorite television series when suddenly the regular programming is interrupted. The news anchor apologizes for the interruption. It is a piece of breaking news. The conventional red BREAKING NEWS label flashes at the bottom of the screen. “…Police have reported a grisly accident along the Interstate-90 freeway. The victims of the accident… an active duty member of the United States Navy and a couple of other unidentified male adults. Our reporter at the scene has more details. Before we go live to the scene, viewer discretion is advised. The details of the scene are graphic, so please be advised that it may not be suitable for persons of minority age. Over to my colleague at the scene for more details and eye witness accounts……” You quickly reach for the remote and switch of the television, knowing that you will not bear the live coverage of the scene.

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You remember your ex-soldier neighbor that has made his family’s lives a living hell because of heavy drinking. You mumble a few cursing words, pick up your phone, go straight to your favorite browser and key in the words “Binge drinking in the military.” What you learn reveals to you the extent to which the statistics on military drinking are such an ignored public health issue and a threat to national security.

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The issue of binge drinking among the civilian population has been the subject of many research studies, with many multidisciplinary efforts yielding some recommendations that have been practically implemented. However, binge drinking in the military has been a topic ignored by many communities, including the government. According to official statistics, about 30 percent of all active-duty military personnel are heavy drinkers (Meadows et al. 1). Contextually, the term heavy drinking refers to a situation where a person serving in the army drinks 14 or more drinks per week in the case of males and seven or more bottles for females. Thirty percent is a statistic sufficiently significant to warrant more research and the quest for policy-based solutions to the issue, which has manifested as a not only critical threat to national security and public safety, but also a public health risk worth noting.

History of the Epidemic

The historical timeline of alcohol use in the military commences centuries ago and is projected to go on into the foreseeable future. Some of the most significant world militaries, including the British Army, The Greek Armies, the Romans, the Russian army, have an alcohol-tainted history. The British East Indian Company was highly connected to the use of gin and tonic. Initially, the gin and tonic were meant for medicinal purposes, being part of the concoction that included quinine to fight malaria. In 1775, Winston Churchill would acknowledge the centrality of alcohol use in the military, arguing that the drink had saved more lives than all the medical Practitioners in the entire empire. During the First World War, research studies indicated that the effects of military drinking had spilled over to the civilian population, noting that more civilian women than men were visiting bars and clubs. In 1915, Lloyd George would say, ‘Britain is fighting Germans, Austrians, and Drink, and as far as I can see, the greatest of these foes is Drink (Haydn 125). It shows that drinking has been a public health and national security problem for centuries, it is nothing new. 

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In the American civil war, whiskey was a primary ingredient. Initially used as a stimulant by the military personnel, the drink would later gain popularity as some sort of pain reliever when injuries occurred. There are numerous accounts of hospitals relying on the bottle as a stimulant for the people in the n-patient department.  Writing about her experiences as a matron serving military personnel in the America civil war, Phoebe Yates Pember of Chimborazo, a nurse from Richmond Virginia says, ‘if it is necessary to have a hero for this matter-of-fact narrative, the whiskey barrel will have to step forward and make his bow’ (Wheeler and Lorri Glover 303). She shows the centrality of alcohol in the American civil war, as both a stimulant and a pain-reliever.

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History has it that the Roman Army was heavily reliant on the vinegary drink known as Posca. Initially used for medicinal purposes, the drink was a concoction of sour wine and an assortment of flavoring herbs to enhance the taste. The alcohol was intimately associated with the Roman military forces way into the Byzantine period. The relationship between the vinegary drink and the Roman militaries is comparable to the connection between the Russian army and vodka, a drink that would be known as Russian water during the Second World War.

Causes and Social Effects

From the brief history above, it is clear that the use of alcohol in the military has many roots, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the need for a stimulant and a pain reliever, and social and medicinal reasons. Studies also indicate that the fact that a drinking environment surrounds the military establishments explains the epidemic.

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Describing the effect of vodka in a 2002 letter, Russian writer Victor Erofeyev says, ‘It seems to punch a hole directly into the subconscious, setting off a range of odd gestures and facial expressions. Some people wring their hands; some grin idiotically or snap their fingers; others sink into sullen silence. But no one, high or low, is left indifferent. More than by any political system, we are all held hostage by vodka.’ (Ross et al. 56) This goes a long way to explain the importance of the drink to the Russian soldier, not only to withstand the extreme weather conditions of Moscow but also to unite them as a force. It subjects the citizenry to some slavery due to dependency. 

Another social effect of binge drinking in the military is rampant deaths among the military personnel due to such cases as accidents attributed to drinking under the Influence (DUI). The DUI cases involving active-duty military personnel make up a worrying statistic. Other causes of death associated with such drinking include instances of homicide, broken families, and incarceration. Incarceration has severe consequences, including fatherless or motherless children in single-parent families. In addition to the overwhelming numbers of deaths connected to military drinking, other health-related outcomes include the diseases that are directly related to binge drinking.

Drinking in the military creates a massive compromise of our preparedness for external aggression. Basic knowledge has it that a person under the influence is not as competent as a sober mind in terms of decision making and discretion. A military establishment full of drunken men and women may not be sufficiently prepared for an attack. This leaves the country’s borders vulnerable and creates a loophole for external aggression, something that may come with devastating socio-economic and political repercussions. The innermost circles affected by this pandemic are the soldiers themselves, their families, and friends, as well as the entire sphere of the defense forces. However, because their role is to protect and defend the Homeland, it is an issue that affects the whole nation.

Examples of the Epidemic

Example 1.

As discussed above, one of the social effects of military drinking is that it could get people facing incarceration and some legal consequences, including fines. Following the implementation of the No Treating Order, one of the earliest legislative efforts against military drinking, many people faced different consequences. On the 14th day of March 1916, The Morning Post reported.

“At Southampton yesterday, Robert Andrew Smith was fined for treating his wife to a glass of wine in a local public-house. He said his wife gave him sixpence to pay for her drink. Mrs. Smith was also fined one pound for consuming, and Dorothy Brown, the barmaid, five pounds for selling the intoxicant, contrary to the regulations of the Liquor Control Board.” (Haydn 124).

Example 2.

On the 4th day of February 2019, the Navy Times reported a story where an American navy sailor, Petty Officer 2nd Class Nathaniel Williams, drunken-walked into the home of a Japanese couple and went on to the bathroom to take a shower. The homeowner, shocked and ready to defend his home, used violence against the officer (Simkins 1). Such stories indicate some of the social effects of military drinking on society.

Solutions

The CDC report indicated a worrying trend in the issue, with a third of the troops being addicted to drinking. The detailed report also revealed a connection between age and the tendency to indulge in drinking. People aged below 26 years, the groups that makes up about 46.7 percent of the entire active-duty workforce made up two thirds or 67.1 percent of all binge episodes (Stahre 208). 25.1 percent of the binging episodes were reported by underage troops (17 to 20 years). Heavy drinkers, a category that made up 19.8 percent of the respondents accounted for 71.5 of the binge cases, and exhibited the highest yearly per capita at 112.6 binge episodes (Stahre 211).  The report also indicated that binge drinkers were more susceptible to drinking-related harms than their non-binge drinker colleagues. The main adverse effects of the pandemic include poor performance at work, DUI cases and other problems with the criminal justice system. The problem is prevalent across the forces, the army, the airfare, the marines, the navy and the coast guard as seen in figure 1 below.

To understand the answers to the pandemic, we must appreciate the causes. First, the most significant cause of military drinking is PTSD, which is considered a consequence of exposure to extreme violence and death. To address such rising cases of PTSD, the government and other stakeholder communities should invest in a multidisciplinary strategy to find a lasting solution to the pandemic. It is worth noting that PTSD is a multidimensional mental disorder that would require a multi-pronged approach to solve. Regarding PTSD, counseling and life coaching would go a long way to restructure the veterans, at least in the psychological sense. Counselling has been offered to affected people, especially in the post-war period, but the emphasis has not been put on the multidisciplinary aspect.

The second answer to binge drinking in the military would be a military-civilian partnership to sponsor and support economic interventions. Increases in alcohol prices and the elimination of the traditional government subsidies on the drink have been proven to work. Economic behaviorism explains that the pain associated with a loss is more than proportionate in compared to the pleasure in a gain of the same magnitude. For instance, to increase the price of alcohol by X dollars would evoke a negative response more impactful than the pleasure in reducing the cost by X dollars. As such, price increases and withdrawal of subsidies is one of the critical solutions to binge military drinking.

In her dissertation, Sparks explains that there is a connection between the proximity of military establishments to alcohol establishments and the rates of binge drinking. The research found out that just like colleges, military bases have quite several alcohol selling establishments in their neighborhoods. The convenience with which the alcohol establishments are located motivates military drinking. Policymakers should partner with the military and the public to challenge the construction of such establishments around military bases and facilities. This would be a part of reducing the alcohol outlets’ density, which would play a critical role in lowering military and civilian binge drinking. This solution works because it denies people the convenience of accessing alcohol.

Stress and boredom also rank as factors contributing to high rates of military drinking. Such is deeply rooted in military culture and lifestyle. A modification of the ordinary, routine-based life of the military personnel would be one of the most effective approaches to changing the alcohol drinking status quo. The top military personnel should work hand in hand with multidisciplinary teams from the civilian population towards creating a lifestyle and culture that would discourage drinking for both the active duty and veteran military personnel. Finding ways of entertaining the troops and keeping them busy would be a good goal for the multidisciplinary team working in partnership with the civilian population.

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Command disapproval of the abuse of alcohol would be the most effective solution because gong against the military code comes with severe consequences. It is part of the systemic approach that would encourage non-alcoholism in the military. Going against the military order is one of the things that a member of the forces dreads. The main reason why this approach works is that its consequences are practical deterrent tools.

Despite these measures, a report by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that the problem of binge drinking continues to increase in the present times, and if no measures are put in place, the problem will continue to rise in the coming years. With one in every three members of the defense forces being a binge drinker, there is sufficient reason to worry (Meadows et al. 1). The present gaps in the academic underpinnings around the topic of binge drinking are an indication of the need for further research into the core causes of the problem and to come up with recommendations on how policy changes could introduce systemic solutions to the current issue.

Camus and absurdity

Camus’s view is one that tried to examine the human experience from an objective point. The anarchist and atheist French poet and philosopher are known for his theory of absurdity, which suggests that it is pointless trying to pursue happiness through the order and the quest to understand the meaning of life. He argues that it is pointless trying to make the meaning of a universe that does not allow you to understand it. The world, in his view, is an unpredictable natural order and that ‘whatever will happen will happen’ (a translation of his slogan, Que sera sera) (Ahmed 111). He argues that the natural order has a way of establishing humans as equals. In his writings, such as The Plague, he explores the issue of some natural phenomena that render all men equal. For instance, the plague of the Black Death killed millions of people in medieval England. He finds no sense in trying to blame such happenings on a god he believes does not exist. 

About the social pandemic of binge drinking in the military, Camus, who is opposed to the idea of order and regulations, would disapprove of the efforts to have the drinking regulations instituted. For he believes in Que sera sera, the French philosopher would not have been bothered by the idea that drinking among the military personnel would significantly compromise the country’s preparedness for such disasters as external aggression. He would maintain that there is no necessity in trying to reduce the amount of drinking. Being an anarchist, Camus would expectedly support a free social environment where people live and let live, for whatever will happen will happen. The pandemic of binge drinking in the US military would lead to disastrous events such as the deaths of the people involved. For Camus, such deaths could not be blamed on the binge drinking, for the natural world has its way of causing things to happen, and that the human experience is a brief journey through an incomprehensible universe.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the severity of the problem of binge drinking in the military is a gap significant enough to warrant research, mainly because it is an issue that poses as a threat to the security of the nation and as a public health concern. In reality, binge drinking has a multiplicity of adverse social effects, including death, broken families, poor health, and compromised national safety. Some of the suggested and practical solutions include guidance and counseling, policy modifications, command prohibiting measures, and legal actions. Even with such measures being implemented, the problem persists. A mission to find valid answers and policy-based systemic solutions will be the beginning of the journey to save thousands of lives, improving the overall public health standing, and enhancing our readiness for external aggression.

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