​Military culture of alcohol abuse ‘has to be changed’ – UK psychiatrist

Reuters/Nigel Roddis
The government's strategy for combating alcohol abuse in the armed forces has to be changed, a top psychiatrist said.

Professor Neil Greenberg, an expert in military health at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the strategy, which includes health fairs and awareness campaigns, didn’t stop military personnel from drinking excessively.

“For many years the military have relied heavily on alcohol education, so for instance soldiers would have to have a brief every year that tells them drinking is bad for them,” Professor Greenberg told the BBC.

“The problem is we know that alcohol education doesn't really work at all, and the evidence from the civilian population is that it's a terribly ineffective way of stopping people from drinking.”

“If it is that the military culture encourages people who weren't heavy drinkers before to start drinking heavily then really something needs to be done at a very early stage to encourage people to drink in moderate and socially acceptable ways,” Greenberg added.

A 2013 study by the King's Centre for Military Health Research showed that 65 percent of the military were categorized as “higher risk” for their excessive drinking.

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Speaking to RT, Joe Glenton, who served in the British Army for six years and was deployed in southern Afghanistan for seven months in 2006, said: “It’s a very big issue, drinking is central to British army culture and always has been.

“That combined with inadequate treatment of psychological issues stemming from war consistently leads to domestic violence, homelessness, prison for both serving and former military personnel.”

He said alcohol is a default response to trauma, “particularly in the hyper masculine culture of the military.”

“Efforts are being made to improve post-combat treatment, but as much for show as to improve things,” Glenton added.

A Commons Defence Select Committee recently concluded the government's strategy had not made any noticeable impact on trying to reduce excessive drinking in the armed forces.

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The Committee said: “We are not convinced that sufficient focus has been given to dealing with the problem at every level of the chain of command.

“We also question whether the Ministry of Defence has examined whether excess alcohol consumption may, in some service personnel, be masking other mental health problems.”

In response to the criticism, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Defence told the BBC: “As within wider society, there is no quick fix to reduce alcohol misuse in the armed forces.

“We are taking action by educating personnel on the dangers of alcohol misuse to help them make informed decisions, and have introduced extensive policy and guidance for commanders.”

The spokesperson added that personnel who drink excessively are disciplined.