Military wives may be more likely to engage in binge drinking than other married women, according to a new government study. 

About 32 percent of the military wives interviewed as part of a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported having at least four alcoholic drinks in one sitting at least once in the previous 30 days, meeting the SAMHSA criteria for binge drinking. That's nine percentage points higher than the overall survey figure for married women.

About 68 percent of military wives used alcohol in the previous 30 days, compared with 54 percent of all married women. Less than 1 percent of the military wives received treatment for substance use in the previous year. 

The results are based on the 300 military wives out of 51,118 adults who were interviewed for the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It's the first survey of its kind where researchers asked whether anyone in the family was serving on active duty -- a way to begin addressing gaps in research available on a national level about military families, they said. The interviews are confidential.

The survey by SAMHSA, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, serves as a primary source of information on the prevalence, patterns and consequences of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drug use and abuse, as well as mental disorders.


Using those figures, "you can't draw a conclusion that military wives have a higher rate of binge drinking," said Kelly Hruska, director of government relations for the National Military Family Association.

Hruska pointed out that military spouses tend to be younger than the average spouse, which could contribute to the difference in alcohol use.  

"'I'm a little concerned about making this a big issue," she said, but added that the report provided a useful baseline for future studies.

The report acknowledges that the disproportionately higher number of younger military spouses could contribute to the higher estimates of alcohol use ... if young adults are more likely than adults over age 26 to use alcohol. The study didn't make that comparison between the 18- to 25-year-olds because of "sample size limitations," SAMHSA spokesman Brad Stone said.

The survey included women ages 18-49. Nearly 18 percent of military spouses were in the 18-to-25-year-old range, compared with 7 percent of all survey-takers. 

The overall small numbers of military spouses and children in the survey limit the depth of of analyses that are feasible with a single year of data, researchers noted. But while the numbers of military wives in the survey are small, researchers were able to make reliable estimates, said Rachel N. Lipari, principal author of the report.

The survey found military wives were no more likely to use illicit drugs than the sample as a whole and were less likely to have used marijuana in the previous year. They showed no increased risk for substance abuse or mental illness, researchers said, although about 29 percent of military wives reported some mental, behavioral or emotional disorder in the past year, compared with 20 percent of all respondents. Researchers called the difference "not statistically significant."

Not enough male military spouses took part to create a reliable sample, Lipari said -- a gap researchers hope to address in future surveys.

RELATED: Need to find help? See Military OneSource's "Confidential Help" page and SAMHSA's "Find Help & Treatment" page.


Researchers said they didn't see any significant differences between the military children and their civilian counterparts in the survey, Lipari said. Out of 16,955 interviews of adolescents (ages 12-17), there were 400 military children.

Some other survey results:

  • 19.6 percent of military children reported illicit drug use within the past year, compared with 17.5 percent of their civilian peers.
  • 16.7 percent of military children had a major depressive episode  in the previous year, compared with 12.5 percent of their peers in the survey.
  • 10.7 percent of military children used marijuana in the past year, compared with 12.6 percent of all youths.
  • 16.2 percent of military wives smoked cigarettes in the previous month, compared with 15.8 percent of all married women.
  • 3.2 percent of military children smoked cigarettes in the previous month, compared with 4.2 percent of all youths.
  • 9.3 percent of military children drank any alcohol in the previous month, compared with 9.6 percent of all youth.
  • 11.8 percent of military wives had at least one major depressive episode in the previous year, compared with 7.3 percent of all married women.

The analysis of future years of pooled data will provide potentially useful information to policymakers, researchers and health care providers charged with determining which benefits and programs should be offered to military families when it comes to mental health and substance-abuse concerns, the report noted.
"It is vitally important that we do everything possible to meet the behavioral health care needs of people who have sacrificed so much for our nation," SAMHSA Principal Deputy Administrator Kana Enomoto said in a statement. "This report will help SAMHSA and others in the field offer programs better designed to address issues that affect military wives and children." 

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

In Other News
Load More