Military Outdrinks Everybody

Despite some obstacles, America's armed forces drink other professions under the table.

Photo by Jeff Drongowski under CC BY 2.0 license

America’s armed forces lead the nation in one important category:

Whether it’s shutting down an entire country’s beer supply, going on a beer-only diet for Lent, or reaching a state of intoxication so severe that one breaks into someone’s home, gets naked and takes a shower, the association between service member and alcohol is well established.

It should come as no surprise, then, that data pulled from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and analyzed by the Delphi Behavioral Health Group revealed that service members consume alcohol on more days of the year than any other profession.

Close to 27,000 people across 25 different industries responded to surveys on alcohol consumption during the period of 2013 and 2017, with the average person reportedly consuming at least one drink 91 days per year.

Service members, meanwhile, led all other professions, with an average of 130 days of drinking — or, over one-third of the calendar year.

Miners and construction workers were not far behind, drinking 112 days and 106 days per year, respectively.

Military Times, “The military leads all other professions in the number of days spent drinking per year, study claims”

At first blush, a mere 130 days of drinking per year strikes me as underwhelming. I don’t want to brag or anything, but I’m easily at twice that. I could hit three times that if the year were a little longer.

Then again, we’re more than 17 years into a period of routine overseas deployment to combat zones where consumption of alcohol is verboten. That has to be dragging the average down. Plus, a rather large segment of the force (a full quarter of the Marine Corps) is under the legal drinking age.

Beyond all that, while the number of days drinking tells us something useful, I’m not sure it’s the best metric. Surely, some measure of volume consumed is more meaningful?

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Scott says:

    And yet we are positively abstemious compared to the armed forces of any of the British Commonwealth nations.

  2. Mark Ivey says:

    Half of my senior enlisted leadership in my combat engineer days were functioning alcoholics.

  3. Jay L Gischer says:

    I drink about 4 oz of red wine pretty much every night. This has a beneficial effect on my heart health, and is why I do it.

    This counts me as having 365 “drinking days” per year. I’m not thrilled with this metric.

  4. CSK says:

    @Jay L Gischer: Keep it up. My father had a small vodka martini before dinner, and 4 ounces of red wine with dinner, and he lived to be well past 94 in very good shape.

  5. DrDaveT says:

    While I agree that this is a dumb metric — one designed perhaps to distinguish nondrinkers from light drinkers from social drinkers — there is no doubt that the military not only drinks too much, but drinks in bad ways. The deep discounts on booze available on all bases (including at many gas stations on base) seems like an odd managerial choice, given that reality.

  6. dmhlt says:

    With Trump as the Commander in Chief, who can blame them?

  7. Sleeping Dog says:

    Frequency, number of days with consumption, really doesn’t tell you much, the revealing statistic would be volume per drinking day.

    Do navies still have a rum ration?

  8. CSK says:

    The most irritating people in the world are those who separate humanity into two categories: teetotalers and alcoholics. There’s no in between for them. One sip of booze, and you’re a hopeless drunk.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    Would be interesting to compare the alcohol consumption of the military in different countries.

    My own experience (general–not military) is that the Finns can drink the Russians under the table.

  10. Barry says:

    @DrDaveT: “The deep discounts on booze available on all bases (including at many gas stations on base) seems like an odd managerial choice, given that reality.”

    Back in the early 80’s, I (a private) had to bite my lip when the officers wondered at the drinking. I could not utter the words ‘Tax-free booze’.

  11. Kathy says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Do navies still have a rum ration?

    Apparently not.

    The French, at least. allow their sailors one drink each day. But they have to pay for it.

  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    My eldest child, the genius, has added to her repertoire of useful skills. She’s been our ‘tech guy’ since she was about five, but now she’s added bartending. 5 o’clock cocktails, whatever I order. She can mix a good martini, old fashioned, Manhattan, whiskey sour and various iterations of margaritas.

    I would stop drinking, but I don’t want to discourage her. It’s just good parenting.

  13. Mister Bluster says:

    Surely, some measure of volume consumed is more meaningful?
    How about whatever it takes to kill you.

    There has been at least one university hazing death each year from 1969 to 2017. According to Franklin College journalism professor Hank Nuwer, over 200 university hazing deaths have occurred since 1838, with 40 deaths between 2007 and 2017 alone. Alcohol poisoning is the biggest cause of death.

  14. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: The Marines have recently stopped allowing late-night sales of alcohol at base convenience stores. Otherwise, the tax-free status is just a bonus of being able to buy stuff on base outside the jurisdiction of the state and local taxing authorities.

    @CSK: Yes, most of the people I work with in the national security space seem to be regular drinkers. Some may be functional alcoholics but with an emphasis on functional.

    @Michael Reynolds: Those are good skills. I was in my late 30s before I started teaching myself.

    @Mister Bluster: I would imagine 200 university students have died from slipping in the shower since 1838. How many students have cycled through over the last 180 years? Millions?

  15. Mister Bluster says:

    Unless you are attending Penn State I suspect slipping in the shower is an accident.
    Drinking yourself to death is totally preventable.

  16. James Joyner says:

    @Mister Bluster: Sure. I’m just saying 200 deaths in nearly as many years is something shy of an epidemic. Obviously, it’s a bad idea to drink yourself to death and universities have rightly stepped in hard in recent years to crack down on hazing practices.

  17. Mister Bluster says:

    I don’t know what numbers define an epidemic but this is still totally preventable.
    On average, six persons, mostly adult men, die from alcohol poisoning each day in the United States.

  18. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    Otherwise, the tax-free status is just a bonus of being able to buy stuff on base outside the jurisdiction of the state and local taxing authorities.

    I’m not sure I see your point. How does that in any way change the fact that the military deliberately makes cheap booze available to young men, even as they complain about how much those men drink? A subsidy is a subsidy, whatever the mechanism.

    (And I’m not sure it’s only tax avoidance, at that. I believe the AAFES system also charges less markup on alcoholic beverages than other retailers do. I’m not as familiar with the Navy and Marines.)