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News Release


Release No: 126-96
March 08, 1996


The Department of Defense today announced the final results of its 1995 worldwide survey of health behaviors among military personnel. The report shows that the usage of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs are at the lowest rates since the surveys began measuring certain health-related behaviors in 1980.

This survey is the sixth in the series of confidential, anonymous, standardized surveys which asks active duty service members about various health behaviors including the use of illegal drugs, tobacco, alcohol, and at-risk sexual behavior. The survey was revised this year to assess selected national health status goals reflected in the Healthy People 2000 objectives, the mental health of the force and specific health concerns of military women. Over 16,000 service members selected to represent men and women in all pay grades of the active force throughout the world completed the survey.

"This 1995 report is encouraging. Overall, the negative effects of alcohol and drug use continue to decline. Our increased emphasis on health promotion, safety, and disease prevention should reflect even lower rates in the future," said Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Stephen C. Joseph.

Between 1980 and 1995, the survey shows a continuing decline in the use of illicit drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes by military personnel. When first surveyed in 1980, 27.6 percent of the active force acknowledged use of illicit drugs during the month prior to being questioned. In 1995, 3.0 percent reported using illicit drugs. Heavy drinking declined from 20.8 percent in 1980 to 17.1 percent in 1995 while cigarette smoking declined from 51.0 percent to 31.9 percent during this same period.

While the overall reported rate of illicit drug use is very low, the usage rate continues to be concentrated among service members who are male, younger, less educated, single, and lower paygrade. Marijuana remains the most frequently reported illicit drug used by personnel in the prior month (1.7 percent), followed by LSD/hallucinogens and analgesics (0.6 percent each), amphetamines/stimulants (0.5 percent), and cocaine and tranquilizers (0.3 percent each). The average daily consumption of alcohol per service member has decreased 44 percent in 15 years, from 1.48 ounces per person in 1980 to 0.83 ounces in 1995. This reflects the continuing increase in the percentages of people who abstain from alcohol or who are infrequent/light drinkers (from 25.6 percent in 1980 to 39.7 percent in 1995). While this trend to less drinking is decidedly positive, heavy drinking remains problematic. (Heavy drinking is defined as five or more drinks per occasion at least once a week.) The decline in heavy drinking since 1980 may be largely attributed to changes in the sociodemographic composition of the active force rather than true changes in consumption rates. Relative to 1980, a larger proportion of the military is now in the demographic groups that are less likely to be heavy drinkers. Nevertheless, between 1980 and 1995, significant declines were found in the percentages of personnel experiencing alcohol-related serious consequences, productivity loss, and symptoms of dependence.

Smoking also shows a continuing declining trend. From the peak rate of 51.4 percent in 1982, the rate of cigarette usage reported in the 30 days prior to completing the survey has dropped to 31.9 percent. While still above the Healthy People 2000 objective of 20 percent, this rate is down significantly from the 1992 rate of 35.0 percent. The rate of smokeless tobacco use during the past 30 days was 13.2 percent. Use was inversely related to age and was highest among young males ages 18 to 24 (21.9 percent).

The survey also gathered information on selected Healthy People 2000 objectives pertaining to exercise, body weight, blood pressure awareness and control, cholesterol screening, seat belt and helmet use, condom use, Pap tests, and substance use during pregnancy. Overall, the Military in 1995 had met or exceeded the five Healthy People 2000 target goals for overweight for those age 20 and older, strenuous exercise, seat belt use, Pap smears ever received, and Pap smears received in the past three years. Other targets had been met by at least some demographic subgroups within the active force. Additionally, the active force was within 10 percentage points or less of reaching the targets for no cigarette use during pregnancy, condom use, overweight for personnel under age 20, and helmet use by motorcyclists.

By examining stress, coping mechanisms, symptoms of depression, and relationships between alcohol use and mental health, the survey indicates that most military personnel have good mental health and have appropriate coping mechanisms for managing stress. The most frequently reported stressful event for both men (23.7 percent) and women (21.1 percent) was family separation. The three most commonly used strategies for coping with stress were adopting a problem-solving approach, seeking social support, and engaging in health-related behaviors such as exercise.

The survey also investigated several health issues that may affect the readiness of military women: stress, access to and satisfaction with obstetrical and gynecological care, receipt of Pap smears, pregnancy, prenatal care, and substance use during pregnancy. "Really significant is that for the first time since we started surveying in 1980, we have valuable information on issues relating specifically to our active duty women's health," Joseph said. He explained that , "these data are increasingly important because of the number of women we have in the military and the assistance the information provides in developing policies for health promotion." Overall, the findings suggest that military women believe that they have good access to health care services. The survey did note that about 33 percent of women perceived high levels of stress associated with being a woman in the Military.

"These survey results enable the department to focus health and education efforts on specific population groups in order to enhance their health and to achieve force readiness," stated Joseph.

The 1995 survey was conducted under contract by the Research Triangle Institute. The final report is available from the Defense Technical Information Center and the National Technical Information Service (NTIS). The NTIS phone number is (703) 487-4600; cite publication number PB96-129051 when requesting copies. Previous survey reports may also be obtained from these sources. A highlights version of the 1995 survey will be available in March 1996.

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