Co-occurring Alcohol and Mental Health Problems in the Military

Prevalence, Disparities, and Service Utilization

Published in: APA PsycNet (2021). doi: 10.1037/adb0000804

Posted on RAND.org on June 21, 2022

by Lynsay Ayer, Rajeev Ramchand, Gina Karimi, Eunice C. Wong

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Objective

To examine the prevalence of co-occurring alcohol and mental health (MH) problems (COPs), perceived MH service need, and MH service utilization among active duty service members, and to identify differences in gender, race/ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation and gender identity.

Method

16,699 active duty service members participated in the Department of Defense's 2015 Health Related Behaviors Survey. Measures included demographics, combat deployment, smoking status, problematic alcohol use (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-C, AUDIT-C), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD Checklist, Civilian Version, PCL-C), depression (Patient Health Questionnaire-9, PHQ-9), anxiety (Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7, GAD-7), and perceived need for and use of MH services. We examined groups of service members with probable: COP, alcohol problem only, MH problem only, and neither.

Results

Eight percent of service members reported COPs, 26.89% reported alcohol use problem only, and 9.41% reported a MH condition only. COPs were more common among those who were lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT), those who had three or more combat deployments, and smokers, and less common among those aged 35 years and older, Asian or Black, and in the Air Force and Coast Guard (relative to Navy). Those reporting a probable MH problem only were significantly less likely to report use of past year MH counseling than those with probable COPs; otherwise, patterns of service utilization and perceived need were similar.

Conclusions

COPs are common enough that screening for and attention to their co-occurrence are needed in the military, and some subgroups of service members are at particularly high risk for COPs. Future research and policy should delve deeper into how the needs of service members with COPs can be addressed.

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