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The Navy's New Breathalyzers And Alcohol Abuse Among Veterans

An order announced yesterday by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus will install breath-testing machines on all of the U.S. Navy’s ships and submarines and on Marine Corps bases. The move, according to The Washington Post, “is part of a broader new Navy program designed to improve the physical and mental well-being of those having difficulty coping with the stresses of a decade of war.” As Mabus tells it, the Navy is trying to proactively address a range of alcohol-related problems, from poor fitness to sexual assault and suicide. What effect have the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had on alcohol consumption among veterans?

According to a 2008 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the biggest increases in unhealthy alcohol consumption have taken place among Reserve and National Guard personnel who deployed. They “were significantly more likely to experience new-onset heavy weekly drinking […] and alcohol-related problems […] compared with nondeployed personnel.”Younger personnel were also at higher risk. Both men and women experienced increased new-onset drinking behaviors, but their behaviors differed: While women became more likely to drink heavily, compared to men they were less likely to start binge drinking or experience alcohol-related problems—suggesting that women are “turning to drinking as a coping mechanism, whereas men may have a higher propensity for risk-taking behaviors.”