Survey Finds Decline in Heavy Alcohol, Other Drug Use

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Survey Finds Decline in Heavy Alcohol, Other Drug Use

The Defense Department's 1988 Worldwide Survey of Substance Abuse and Health Behaviors Among Military Personnel recorded significant declines in heavy drinking and drug use to the lowest levels since the survey series began in 1980.

The decreases were larger for drug use than for heavy alcohol use. While the percentage of military personnel who used any drug during the past 30 days decreased from 27.6 percent in 1980 to 4.8 percent in 1988, the percentage of heavy drinkers declined only from 14.1 percent in 1980 to 8.2 percent in 1988. And only drug use decreased significantly between each of the four surveys taken since 1980.

Trends in Negative Effects

Although there was a significant decline in alcohol-related negative effects between 1980 and 1988, more dramatic declines were reported in the negative effects of drug use.

In 1980, 17.3 percent of military personnel reported having experienced one or more serious consequences associated with alcohol use during the year. By 1988, 9 percent reported such consequences. Alcohol-related productivity loss decreased from 26.7 percent in 1980 to 22.1 percent in 1988. Alcohol dependence decreased from 8 percent in 1980 to 6.4 percent in 1988.

Each of the three measures of alcohol-related negative effects (any serious consequences, productivity loss, and dependence) declined significantly between 1980 and 1988, but only productivity loss declined significantly between 1985 and 1988. In contrast, 13.3 percent of military personnel reported experiencing one or more drug-related serious consequences in 1980, declining to only 1.8 percent in 1988. And drug-related productivity loss also declined from 14.4 percent of personnel in 19809 to just 2.1 percent in 1988.

The report noted that surveys of civilian populations conducted over the past decades, coupled with longer term information about alcohol sales and more recent surveys of military populations, "indicate that most Americans drink alcoholic beverages, but they are now drinking less." Average daily consumption of alcohol by all military personnel and personnel in each of the services has declined steadily since 1980; consumption was relatively stable between 1980 and 1982, but substantial decreases occurred after 1982. Average daily consumption of pure alcohol declined from 1.48 ounces in 1980 to 1.41 in 1982, dropping off to .96 ounces in 1988.

"This finding is consistent with the fact that military efforts to prevent alcohol abuse have recently been intensified," the report said.

Decreases in alcohol consumption over time are not in large part accounted for by changes in the sociodemographic composition of the military population, according to the report. Estimates for average daily alcohol consumption were standardized to determine whether the observed decreases were related to the fact that the military population has become older, more likely to be married, and better educated. …

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