As a military service member, it’s important to understand how the military handles alcohol use. This way, you can make lawful, responsible choices regarding your alcohol consumption. Here’s what you need to know to remain in good standing as a service member and what to do if you face disciplinary action for excessive alcohol use.
Rates of Alcohol Use Among Military Personnel
Alcoholism is a significant problem in the military. Active-duty personnel often consume alcohol to celebrate combat victories or to cope with post-combat stress, loneliness, boredom, and the lack of other recreational activities. Some factors that contribute to heavy drinking among young service members include:
- Low cost and ease of availability
- Ritualized drinking opportunities
- Inconsistent policies
Even though military personnel are discouraged from drinking, responsible alcohol consumption is still permitted. However, many service members consume more than a healthy limit and develop a dependency.
The rates of heavy alcohol use—defined as five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once a week in the past 30 days—are significantly higher among 18- to 25-year-olds in the military than in the same age group of civilians. Data from 2001 and 2002 reveal the following:
- Civilians:8 percent of males and 5.5 percent of females—or 15.3 percent of the general population—are heavy drinkers.
- Marine Corps: The highest rate of heavy alcohol use in the military occurs in the Marine Corps. There, 38.6 percent of young men and 12.9 percent of young women—or 35.4 percent of all marines—admit to drinking heavily.
- Other military branches: About 25 to 33 percent of young men and 6 to 12 percent of young women in the Army, Air Force, and Navy—or 20 to 28 percent of all soldiers, airmen, and sailors—are heavy drinkers.
What is the Minimum Drinking Age on Military Installations?
You must be 21 years or older to buy or consume alcohol in the United States. But what if you’re stationed abroad? According to USC Title 10, Section 2683:
“The Secretary shall establish and enforce as the minimum drinking age on a military installation located in a State the age established by the law of that State as the State minimum drinking age.”
Check with your Base Command if you’re under 21 and feeling unsure whether it’s legal to drink while serving overseas.
Alcohol-Related Offenses in the UCMJ
Drinking alcohol, particularly in an irresponsible way, can affect your performance as a service member. This may lead to an alcohol-related offense with varying degrees of consequences, including discharge from the military. Here are the articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) pertaining to alcohol use:
- Article 111 – Drunken or Reckless Operation of a Vehicle, Aircraft, or Vessel
- Article 112 – Drunk on Duty
- Article 134 – Drunkenness, or incapacitation for performance of duties through prior wrongful indulgence in intoxicating liquor or any drug
- Article 134 – Disorderly Conduct, Drunkenness
- Article 134 – Drinking Liquor with Prisoner
- Article 134 – Drunk Prisoner
Consequences of Irresponsible Alcohol Consumption in the Military
Military members who commit alcohol-related offenses are subject to disciplinary actions under the UCMJ. Depending on the exact crime, these actions may include:
- Partial or total forfeiture of pay and allowances
- Bad conduct discharge
Apart from the formal punishments doled out by the UCMJ, other serious consequences of alcohol abuse in the military may include:
- Dependence symptoms (mood swings, irritability, depression, strained relationships, shame and guilt surrounding drinking, and spending excessive amounts of money to support a drinking habit)
- Productivity loss
- Fighting while drinking
- Missing duty because of a drinking-related illness or arrest
- Failing to be promoted
- Receiving a low performance rating
- Being arrested for an alcohol-related crime
- Causing a traffic accident resulting in property damage, injury, or death
Get Help for Alcohol Abuse
The Department of Defense (DoD) has established screening measures to help commanders identify service members who might be struggling with alcohol abuse. If you need help, reach out to a supervisor to seek treatment. As long as you assume accountability for your actions and complete treatment successfully, you may be permitted to return to duty following an alcohol-related incident.
Treatment options that cater to the unique needs of military service members are widely available. Inpatient and outpatient facilities may offer the following:
- Medically supervised detoxification
- Psychological counseling and family therapy
- Support groups with military-focused themes
- Nutritional and fitness counseling
- Art and music therapy
- Yoga and meditation
There are also many branch-specific instructions, guidelines, assessments, and programs to help you make responsible choices or get the help you need. We have listed these below.
Air Force Alcohol Abuse Resources
Army Alcohol Abuse Resources
Coast Guard Alcohol Abuse Resources
Marine Corps Alcohol Abuse Resources
Navy Alcohol Abuse Resources
Department of Defense Alcohol Abuse Resources
Defend Yourself from Alcohol-Related Charges While Serving in the Military
If you have been accused of drunkenness or other alcohol-related crimes, an experienced military defense attorney can help defend your rights. Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law, has over a decade of experience representing service members, drawing on his years as an enlisted soldier and former Army JAG officer. No matter the circumstances surrounding the allegations you now face, we’ll work hard to build a case that restores your reputation and lowers your punishment.