Prevention in the Military: Early Results of an Environmental Strategy

By Ames, Genevieve M.; Spera, Christopher | Alcohol Research, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Prevention in the Military: Early Results of an Environmental Strategy


Ames, Genevieve M., Spera, Christopher, Alcohol Research


This brief sidebar reviews efforts to implement prevention programs within the military. As a workplace, members serving in the United States military at all ranks and all ages have a significant level of responsibility, especially during times of heavy deployments. Today's high-risk, lengthy, and frequent deployments can pose significant challenges to military members and their families (Hosek et al. 2006) and can lead to increased rates of problem behaviors, including heavy alcohol use (Ames et al. 2007). The risk for problem drinking increases for service members with more frequent deployments and a greater total cumulative length of time deployed (Spera et al. 2011). Ames and her group confirmed positive relationships between environmental and cultural elements of foreign deployment liberties (e.g., norms, traditions and rituals around heavy drinking and raucous behavior, availability of inexpensive alcohol, youth role-modeling older sailors, low to no supervisory control) and drinking rates and problem behaviors for both young adult (Ames et al. 2009) and careerist members of the U.S. Navy (Ames et al. 2007). Since 1980, smoking and illicit drug use has decreased among military personnel but heavy alcohol use has not (Bray and Hourani 2007). According to the 2008 Department of Defense (DOD) Health-Related Behavior Survey, 20 percent of all service members reported heavy alcohol use (i.e., five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once a week in the past 30 days) (Bray et al. 2009), meaning heavy episodic drinking still is common in the military (Stahre et al. 2009). In a recent survey, military personnel aged 18 to 25 and 26 to 35 years had significantly higher rates of heavy drinking than did civilians in those age groups: 26 percent vs. 16 percent and 18 vs. 11 percent, respectively (Bray et al. 2009).

Despite the seriousness of military drinking problems, prevention efforts that have undergone rigorous evaluation are minimal. Strategies to prevent alcohol-related consequences, such as driving-under-the-influence (DUI) checks, are used in the military, but are not rigorously evaluated (Moore and Ames 2009). Spera and colleagues (2010) reported on an intervention using environmental strategies to reduce drinking and alcohol-related problems among 18- to 25- year-old active-duty Air Force (AF) members in five communities with local Air Force bases (AFBs). The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) awarded discretionary grants to five communities in four States as part of the Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws initiative to fund these environmental strategies. The intervention targeted active-duty members living both on and off base. A broad-based coalition (e.g., law enforcement officials, government officials, alcohol and beverage commission representatives, and AF human-service providers) was involved in implementing the intervention across a 3-year period. The five communities were Phoenix, Arizona/Luke AFB; Tucson, Arizona/Davis-Monthan AFB; Honolulu, Hawaii/Hickam AFB; the greater Sacramento area in California/Beale AFB; and Great Falls, Montana/Malmstrom AFB.

Intervention activities included the following:

* Enforcement aimed at reducing the social availability of alcohol, including at least three operations per year to verify drinkers' identifications and at least two controlled party-dispersal operations per year;

* A minimum of two to three compliance checks (using covert underage buyers) per year at alcohol retailers near the base and in areas frequented by underage active-duty members to ensure that the establishments were not selling alcohol to underage active-duty members;

* Increased number and frequency of DUI checks in the community, including a minimum of at least two DUI patrol operations per year targeted at youth alcohol parties and subsequent driving in and around their respective areas and communities;

* Working to educate State lawmakers about changes to policies and laws that can affect underage drinking (e. …

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