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U.S. Military Drug Use Declining Dramatically, Navy Says It Is Essentially Drug-Free


October 1996

According to a Department of Defense study, drug use within the military has fallen 89% since 1980 (Malcolm Ritter, "Illicit drug use in U.S. military found to show dramatic fall," Sunday Star Ledger, August 11, 1996, p. A7; Malcolm Ritter, "Military drug use declines," Rocky Mountain News, August 11, 1996. p. A33).

The study tracked trends based on six worldwide surveys of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine personnel from 1980 to 1995. In each survey between 15,000 to 22,000 participants answered confidential questions. The results were reported on August 10 by Robert Bray of the Research Triangle Institute at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

When asked about their illicit drug use within the past 30 days before the survey, 3% of the respondents (about one-third the civilian rate, according to the National Household Survey) said they had used drugs, compared to 27.6% in 1980. For reporting of illicit drug use in the last year, there was an 82% drop since 1980. Bray credited random drug testing, which started in the early 1980s, and the declining drug use throughout America for the dramatic fall. "The message was, DOD was not going to tolerate drug use," said Bray. Up until the mid-1980s, drug users in the military were treated and kept in the military, according to Roger Hartman, a health policy analyst for the Defense Department. Now, all military personnel are randomly drug tested at least once a year, with a positive finding as grounds for a discharge.

The report said the rate of cigarette smoking has dropped by one-third from 51% in 1980 to 32% in 1995 and is now about equal to civilian rates. Bray credited military smoking bans, stop-smoking programs, and the decline of smoking in society in general. Smoking was defined as having smoked at least 100 cigarettes in one's life and at least one in the prior 30 days before the survey.

The survey also reported a decline in heavy drinking in the military from 20.8% in 1980 to 17.1% in 1995. The civilian rate for heavy drinking in 1995 was about 12%. Heavy drinking was defined as five or more drinks per occasion and at least one occasion of drinking per week within the month before the survey. Bray said changing demographic characteristics of military personnel are responsible for the decline. He said the military has increasing numbers of married, better-educated and older people, which are factors that are associated with a lower risk of heavy drinking.