Lesbian and Bisexual Vets at High Risk for Alcoholism

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

Numerous studies have found that military veterans are susceptible to drug abuse after returning from overseas combat, but a new research project reports that lesbian and bisexual women who have served in the military could be at a particularly high risk for alcoholism.

Hazardous Drinking Habits

Dr. Keren Levahot, a Research Clinical Psychologist at VA Puget Sound Health Care System, had her findings published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The participants were recruited through the Internet and data was collected through an online, anonymous survey.

The findings showed that lesbian and bisexual veterans recorded much higher numbers when it came to alcohol misuse than heterosexual female veterans. This is certainly a surprising statistic, since female veterans across the board reported high levels of hazardous drinking.

…lesbian and bisexual veterans recorded much higher numbers when it came to alcohol misuse than heterosexual female veterans.

Additional Findings

Lesbian and bisexual veterans also had higher rates of childhood trauma, physical victimization in adulthood and mental health symptoms such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although there was no difference in military sexual assault between lesbian and bisexual veterans when compared to heterosexual vets, this assault contributed to symptoms of depression and PTSD, having an indirect effect on their alcohol misuse.

Although the findings didn’t directly address issues of sexuality, Dr. Levahot suggested stress factors that would only apply to lesbian and bisexual veterans could also play a role in alcohol abuse and recommended that future research examine this.

Problem Drinking and the Military

Problem drinking has unfortunately become a problem across the board within the U.S. Army. A 2011 post-deployment health survey of 103,000 redeploying soldiers found that nearly 15 percent thought they drank too much.

I don’t want to institute a program where somebody comes in and says, ‘I’m having a problem with alcohol,’ and I look at him and say, ‘Come back in five weeks’…-General Peter ChiarelliTo help combat alcohol abuse, the Army launched a Confidential Alcohol Treatment Education Pilot (CATEP) that has since expanded to six bases. In addition to weekly meetings and off-duty counseling, soldiers can attend in civilian clothing so their rank remains private.

However, CATEP has seen its share of problems. The lack of formal follow-up resulted in 41 participants dropping off within the first 18 months. Those numbers, in addition to the program not being run by command, have also made Army officials hesitant to continue expanding the pilot.

“The unconventional nature of the program has also hindered Army-wide implementation,” said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli.

“I don’t want to institute a program where somebody comes in and says, ‘I’m having a problem with alcohol,’ and I look at him and say, ‘Come back in five weeks, that’s the first available appointment I have.'”
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