British armed forces suffer record levels of alcohol abuse

More than 1,600 service personnel required medical treatment in the past year

Record levels of alcohol abuse in Britain's armed forces have led to more than 1,600 service personnel – the equivalent of several infantry battalions – requiring medical treatment in the past year.

New figures obtained from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) under Freedom of Information laws show that the number of service personnel falling victim to alcohol abuse is at its highest since incidents first began to be collected centrally by the Defence Medical Information Capability Programme in 2007.

Heart problems, alcohol poisoning, liver disease and alcoholic psychosis are among the conditions which the system records. And the numbers needing medical help for drink-related problems soared by 28 per cent between 2012 and 2013.

It is a marked escalation on previous years, with 2011 and 2012 seeing year on year rises of 5 per cent and 4 per cent respectively.

However, the MoD insisted: "We have introduced a brand new system to better record instances of alcohol misuse; this is being rolled out so it is inevitable that as more people use it, the recorded levels of alcohol misuse would rise."

The toll of abuse has resulted in hundreds of soldiers being admitted to psychiatric units over the past five years, with more than 1,300 service personnel treated at mental health units or admitted to an "in-patient provider for psychoactive substance misuse for alcohol".

But the official figures do not reflect the true scale of the problem: "The numbers presented for UK armed forces personnel with psychoactive substance abuse for alcohol should be regarded as a minimum," the MoD said.

More than 4,000 service personnel have been "disciplined for being intoxicated" since 2009, most of whom will have been on duty at the time, according to defence officials.

Drink is a far bigger problem in the Army than drugs, admitted General Lord Dannatt, a former chief of general staff: "Abuse of alcohol has long been a chronic problem in the Army – more so than misuse of drugs which is dealt with very severely.

"The culture of working hard and then playing hard often leads to misuse of alcohol.

"That said, there is a greater awareness in the Army of the dangers of alcohol abuse and of the importance of physical fitness, than 10 or 20 years ago.

"Probably the increased incidence of alcohol misuse is a symptom of the intensity of recent operations – albeit that in the field all Army units are dry."

The drinking culture in the armed forces "has an impact on levels of domestic violence, sexual offences, mental and physical health and family life", according to Madeleine Moon, Labour MP for Bridgend and a member of the Defence Select Committee. "The figures show the problem is increasing and destroying lives. The low price of alcohol in the Mess, the drinking culture and the denial of the crisis we face need urgent attention via independent research tasked with exploring the problem and seeking solutions," she added.

Defence minister Anna Soubry has pledged to take action against a culture of "drinking to the point of oblivion" in the armed forces. The commitment was made during an evidence session before the Defence Select Committee two weeks ago, in which MPs called for an end to subsidised drinks in military bars.

"I am not convinced that we couldn't do more about the culture of drinking in our armed forces," Ms Soubry said. New guidance is to be given to senior officers on how to deal with drinking among those under their command.

Younger soldiers are most at risk, with one in four 18- to 24-year-olds in the Army admitting to drinking at harmful levels, twice the average for the armed forces as a whole and three times that of their civilian counterparts, according to a study by the ForcesWatch network last year.

But the problem does not end when people leave the armed forces. Dr Walter Busuttil, of the Combat Stress charity, said: "We are aware of significant alcohol and illicit substance related disorders …. Our audits show that 69 per cent of our veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress also suffer or have suffered alcohol misuse disorders at some point."

And Eric Appleby, the chief executive of Alcohol Concern, commented: "It's not surprising that the armed forces struggle to identify and deal with alcohol misuse – it's a reflection of wider society and the difficult, complex and all too often destructive relationship we have with alcohol."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before