Alcohol use in the military is prevalent and has short- and long-term health, safety, and career consequences. This study assessed factors at individual, interpersonal, and organizational levels to determine associations with risky alcohol use among military spouses. Military spouses in the study were predominantly female (88%); White, non-Hispanic (72%); and under 28 years old on average.
Among spouses in this sample, 19% were risky drinkers (defined as those reporting binge or heavy drinking in the past year) at follow-up three years after the baseline period. Baseline alcohol use was associated with risky drinking at follow-up. Most spouses (64.2%) did not change their drinking behavior between baseline and follow-up. Those who did change were nearly evenly split between an increasing (17.0%) and decreasing (18.7%) pattern. Risk factors included male gender, cigarette smoking, elevated symptoms of post-traumatic stress, marital separation, and service member deployment with combat. One key finding was that those who were separated between baseline and follow-up were four times more likely to report risky drinking than those who were still married.
Although most military spouses were not engaging in risky drinking, one in five were, with about half of these having moved into the risky drinking category over time. Risky alcohol use among spouses has potentially harmful ramifications for them, the service member, and the family unit. This study highlights how the military can help prevent and reduce excessive alcohol consumption among military spouses, including preventing or reducing cigarette smoking and supporting spouses going through marital separation.