Decreasing alcohol use among young adults presenting for service in the US Air Force: an epidemiological surveillance study

Abstract: U.S. surveys demonstrate recent decreases in the prevalence of alcohol use and binge drinking among young adults. The current study aims to determine whether similar trends are evident in a similarly aged cohort of service members in the US Air Force to inform ongoing prevention efforts. Participants were 103,240 Air Force personnel in entry-level training between 2016 and 2019. Participants anonymously completed the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test) regarding their pre-service drinking. Logistic regression analyses and the Cochran-Armitage test were conducted to measure population trends over the study duration with stratification by age (<21 vs. ≥21) and evaluation of specific alcohol behaviours. Between 2016 and 2019, the proportion of young service members endorsing any alcohol use significantly decreased for both the <21 group (i.e. from 38.9% to 32.6%) and the ≥21 group (i.e. from 80.6% to 77.5%). Among those who endorsed drinking, a decrease over time in binge use was also observed from 46.6% to 37.8% for the <21 group and from 34.2% to 27.5% for the ≥21 group. Responses to other specific alcohol risk items and total AUDIT scores also demonstrated decreases. Binge use and risky drinking remained disproportionately common among those under the legal drinking age. It is encouraging to observe a shift toward abstinence and decreased binge use among this population of young military recruits. However, given the risk for many adverse health and legal consequences in this population, more work is needed to prevent problematic drinking, especially among those under the legal drinking age.

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