Why alcohol can lead veterans to make terrible decisions

Why alcohol can lead veterans to make terrible decisions
Alcohol can lead to terrible decisions - particularly if your mental health is already suffering

by Aasma Day

“Suicide is often an impulsive act and that is more likely when someone is intoxicated.”

Prof Neil Greenberg, professor of defence mental health at King’s College, London, says it is widely recognised that veterans are more likely to have alcohol difficulties.

Read more: We’re failing our veterans by not recording suicides properly

Prof Greenberg, who served in the armed forces for more than 23 years, says: “People drink more while they are in the forces and once they leave.

“There are some veterans who have severe mental health problems who feel that ending their life is the only way out.

“But there are others who are intoxicated and in the heat of the moment, they make a terrible decision.

“It is a dangerous combination in someone who is susceptible.”

Some veterans don’t seek help until it’s too late

Prof Greenberg says it is important for the public to understand that not everyone in the military will have been in combat or leave with serious issues.

He explains: “Not all military people do what people see on the television.

“The public perception is often that the military have all been in combat and are damaged and unwell.

“So they think that everyone leaves with some sort of physical or mental health problems.

“But the reality is that most people leave the military with better self esteem. Most people do well.

“However, an important minority will be damaged physically and mentally and they are more likely to be those who have been in combat.

“The people who leave service and don’t seek help when they need it are the people who sadly sometimes end up taking their own life.

“People don’t seek help for many reasons. Often it is because they are embarrassed or that they don’t recognise that they have a problem.

“Or veterans think they can fix themselves or feel they are not worthy.

“There is a lot of help out there but people don’t always get this help. They think it is not something they need or that their problems are not serious enough.

“When people do eventually seek help, it is often at crisis point or when a loved one has issued them with an ultimatum.”

No simple answers to armed forces drinking culture

Andrew Misell, a director at Alcohol Concern, says: “The issue of drinking in the armed forces is complicated and there are no simple answers.

“Drinking has been a part of military life for centuries and it’s true that drinking together helps people who will be in the firing line together to bond and work together better.

“On the other hand, all of the UK’s armed forces have taken steps in recent years to encourage soldiers, sailors and airmen to cut back on their alcohol use – for their own health and well-being and for the health and safety of those around them.

“Problems can arise too when someone leaves the services. If they’ve got used to a big drinking culture while serving, they may take those drinking habits with them into civilian life, but without all the close-knit social support they received in the forces.

“There is a growing recognition that we need to look after our service personnel when they’re in the forces, and also when they leave.”

If someone is struggling with their drinking, they should seek professional advice and support from their doctor or local alcohol service provider.

A free advice line is also available from Drinkline for those worried about their own or someone else’s drinking on: 0300 123 1110.

For more information, visit: www.alcoholconcern.org.uk