Almost every military spouse I know indulges in wine, beer or liquor. Sometimes all 3. And we drink on the regular.
So the study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) isn’t really a shock. SAMHSA found military wives are more likely to use and abuse alcohol than civilians. We’re only talking about wives because there were not a significant number of males who responded to the study.
The study found that 67.8% of responding military wives, ages 18-49, had used alcohol within a 30-day window. Among same age civilian women, 53.8% reported using alcohol. Military wives also tend to binge drink at higher rates than civilians, 31.5% compared to 22.7%.
The same study found that rates for illegal drug use were about the same for military wives and civilians, 12.8% compared to 12.9%. Military wives are less likely than civilians to use marijuana, 5.1% of military wives versus 8% of civilians.
The rates of drinking and drug use aren’t super surprising.
Our troops can’t use illegal drugs or even medical marijuana without risking their careers. Having a spouse that uses is not going to be looked on favorably. Especially since it’s been drilled into us that “our behavior reflects on our service member.” That’s for better or worse taken very seriously!
Drinking is an outlet for many service members and their spouses. It’s a way that we can unwind and escape reality for a little while. It’s almost taken for granted that booze is going to be consumed at military social gatherings. I don’t mean a six-pack either. We’re talking a keg.
For those who ARE taken back by these statistics, keep some things in mind.
We have been at war since 2001. That’s 15 straight years of combat deployments, extended overseas tours and knocks on the door. Put yourself in our collective shoes and try it on for size. Just for a day or a week.
You’re home, alone or with your children, and your spouse is a world away. You know he’s taking fire and if he’s not then someone else is engaged in battle. There is very little contact and every day brings news that another service member has been KIA. That next knock on the door could be at your house. Or your best friend’s house. Or someone in your neighborhood. It could be anyone and it’s going to be someone.
This is the reality that many military wives have been living for a decade and a half. We’ve been doing this back-to-back-to-back. And moving all over the globe, far from our own families and homes. Can I pour you a drink?
The operational tempo has impacted our mental health.
About 10% more military wives (29.1%) report mental health concerns than civilians (19.7%). No, there is no “official” correlation (yet) from the scientists who study these things. This is what I know.
It’s what I understand after moving 4 times in 8 years.
It’s how I felt during and after his year-long combat deployment.
What I know from having 2 children without my mother to lean on.
It’s what saying goodbye to countless friends does to a person.
It’s the experience of working so hard for a career or an education, just to have it yanked away because your husband got new orders or is deploying again.
Military life is not for the faint of heart and even the strongest of us can bend and break under the constant pressure.
It’s so easy to slip into a pattern of having a glass of wine at night, just to unwind or destress or relax. After a day of barely holding it together, it feels nice to have the world get a little fuzzy and rosé colored.
We are tightly wound.
So when we DO get the chance to let our hair down, it’s going to be epic. That means bar hopping, shots or even just one glass of wine too many. Our spouses are under a lot of pressure too. Plus, many units and bases have a culture of drinking, hard.
There are so many events that make drinking easier or even seemingly “required.” Birthday balls, homecomings, hail and farewell ceremonies, retirements, promotions and even just a neighborhood barbecue are all great excuses to drink. After all, it’s a party, right?
Alcohol is one of the leading ways that people self-medicate to deal with depression, anxiety or countless other mental health conditions.
So, a good time brings an excuse to let loose and to hide the way many military wives truly feel. For many of us, that good time comes with every girls night out, dinner with friends or Tuesday afternoon playdate.
We are young adults.
The SAMHSA study found that there were more military wives in the 18-25 age group than among most married women, ages 18-49. When many of our peers are off at college, we’re holding down on the homefront and managing a household. Having both done full-time college and run a household at a very young age, I can tell you that being an adult is harder than taking most college classes. There is no appealing the grade when you overdraw your checking account and can’t pay the electricity bill.
For many of us in the 18-25 age range, this is our first time away from home and cohabitating with another adult. We are young, immature in every sense of the word and still figuring it out. When you add in the other factors of stress, deployment and moving away from a support system, it’s no wonder that many young military wives drink.
Actually, college students drink heavily, too. And they are in that same 18-25 age bracket. Maybe the drinking isn’t quite so “shocking” when it’s framed that way instead.
Here’s take-away: military spouses drink and have mental health concerns, but we don’t do drugs.