SOLDIERS are turning to “hazardous” levels of alcohol as a result of the Ministry of Defence’s failure “at every chain of command” to help under pressure members of the armed forces.
Urgent action has been called for as it emerges excessive drinking is “the norm” across the military - leading to domestic abuse, violence and mental health issues.
The Commons Defence Committee today warned that mental health and alcohol abuse is routinely overlooked and called for a review of alcohol pricing and availability on military bases
A report revealed that “although armed forces personnel have a lower rate of criminal offending than the general population, the rate for violent incidents is substantially higher, particularly amongst those who have previously been deployed in combat roles and those who misuse alcohol. “
It adds: “The MoD’s own research found that “the misuse of alcohol in the military is substantially higher than that seen in the civilian population, particularly among 16 to 19 year olds, with males drinking over twice the hazardous levels and females over three times.”
The Committee said: “Urgent action is needed to reduce the harm caused by the abuse of alcohol to armed forces personnel and their families. Too many members of the armed forces appear to believe that alcohol is integral to group cohesion or believe that alcohol is an appropriate way of coping with a return from a military deployment.”
The Committee also pointed to the fact that while the incidence of mental health problems among service personnel was comparable to the general population, those who had been deployed in combat roles suffered twice the usual rate of post-traumatic stress.
Chairman of the Committee, Rory Stewart MP, said: “British society has an obligation to look after citizens who have risked their lives for their country. We need to have the confidence that the MoD will continue to look after these people and their families should they ever suffer from any ill-effects of their service.”
The drink culture in the army is thought to be partly behind growing concerns in North Yorkshire, home of the Catterick Garrison, over the impact of alcohol related crime and ill-health.
North Yorkshire County Council’s lead member for health, Don Mackenzie, said the authority was pulling together an alcohol strategy as a result.
“Binge drinking rates in North Yorkshire are estimated to be at their the highest in Richmondshire, and the very large military presence in that district is the main cause for that,” he said.
Last night the ABF The Soldiers’ Charity said there was a clear need for action.
Brigadier (Rtd) Robin Bacon, Chief of Staff, said: “Examining alcohol pricing in barracks, as well as continuing alcohol awareness programmes, can all be part of addressing this issue. The MoD, the National Health Service and Armed Forces charities all have a stake in helping out those who are most in need of assistance.”
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: “Our Armed Forces make a tremendous contribution and sacrifice through their service and deserve the very best support.
“That is why this Government has invested around £7.2 million to improve mental health services available and is taking action to reduce alcohol misuse in the Armed Forces. We welcome the Committee’s detailed report. We will now consider the recommendations and respond formally in due course.”