Alcohol use disorder in active duty service members: Incidence rates over a 19-year period



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Background: Alcohol use is a concerning issue for the military given its potential negative impact on human performance. Limited data are available regarding the incidence of alcohol use disorder in the military, which is critical to understand to evaluate force readiness, as well as for preventative initiatives and treatment planning. The aim was to examine the alcohol use disorder incidence rates (overall and across demographics) among active duty service members from 2001 to 2018.

Methods: Data on 208,870 active duty service members between 2001 and 2018 from the Defense Medical Epidemiology Database was examined. Incidence rates were analyzed to determine the diagnostic rates of AUD (including both alcohol abuse and dependence), which were then examined by sex, age, service branch, military pay grade, marital status, and race.

Results: Incidence rates of AUD in active duty service members (per 1,000 service members) ranged from 6.45 to 10.50 for alcohol abuse and 5.21 to 7.11 for alcohol dependence. Initial diagnoses of new-onset AUD occurred most frequently within 20–24 year-old, white, male, and non-married U.S. Army service members in the enlisted pay grades of E-1 to E-4. Statistically significant differences (p <.001) were found between observed and expected counts across all examined demographic variables.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first study to provide a comprehensive examination of AUD incidence rates in an active-duty military population over an extended 18-year period and during the last decade. Incidence rates were higher than expected for alcohol dependence and lower than expected for alcohol abuse. Given the untoward effects of AUD on overall health and force readiness, active-duty service members may benefit from more advanced preventative interventions to decrease incidence rates of AUD over time. Future research should use these data to develop targeted interventions for the demographics at greatest risk.

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Substance Abuse

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