Page last updated at 11:59 GMT, Thursday, 13 May 2010 12:59 UK

Combat stress

Man drinking from a bottle

Alcohol misuse is more common than post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among UK troops. A study in the Lancet suggests that the number of British troops suffering from PTSD has remained relatively low, despite the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the study found those who had returned from front-line duties were at much greater risk of alcohol abuse. The Ministry of Defence, which funded the independent research, says it takes issues of problem drinking very seriously and that counselling and welfare support is available.

Former members of the armed forces and their families have been telling the BBC News website about their experience of alcohol misuse.

Close up of a pint and a cigarette
The Lancet based the study on 10,000 personnel

I joined the army in 1979 and did two tours of Northern Ireland. I was a 16-year-old lad from Scotland and I quickly got into the hard core drinking culture. I would play hard and drink hard. In the army, there are bars everywhere you go. Alcohol takes the pressure off.

The drinking progressed through my army career. I chose a 14-year post in Germany purely because the alcohol was so cheap there. I would go to the bar on a Friday night and not leave until Sunday lunchtime.

My wife went into labour with my first child. The doctor said that the birth would take a while and the baby probably wouldn't arrive until the following morning which was New Year's Day. I left my wife at the hospital, drove back to base and drank with the lads all night. In the morning, I drove to the hospital - still drunk - to meet my daughter. I wanted booze more than I wanted to help my wife.

When I left the army, I carried on drinking. I spent all our money on booze and I would steal from my wife's purse to pay for vodka.

I wanted booze more than I wanted to help my wife

One night I went out drinking and something clicked in my head. I knew I'd had enough and wanted to stop. I derserved better from life and so did my family. I called Alcoholics Anonymous then and there.

I've been sober nine years now. I live a completely different life. I have self-respect, my family trusts me and I'm a more effective person. My wife and I celebrate my anniversary of being sober every year.

I now work as an AA representative on an army base and I talk to personnel who have done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. My military experience helps me to get through to them. I think the culture is starting to change but slowly. The army seems to be recognising that alcohol is an issue.


I served in Iraq and Northern Ireland. I joined the army in 2000 and left in 2006. I found the transition to civilian life hard and that's when I suffered with depression.

When I was in Iraq, there was no alcohol allowed on the base. We respected the law of the country and all tours to Iraq and Afghanistan are dry. Alcohol problems arise though when soldiers get back from a tour. Although the military offers support and a decompression process, soliders still want to hit the bars. After months of being dry, drinking helps.

I really feel for the troops in Afghanistan. They are boys who are expected to grow up so quickly

In Northern Ireland there was a big drinking culture. There were loads of bars on the base and drinking was what we all did. I found Northern Ireland hard. We were getting hit all the time and when you walked down the high street, it looked the same as the one at home: There was a Next, a fish and chip shop and an Adams store. It felt wrong.

As a soldier you spend days just waiting for something to happen and that wrecks your nerves after a while. I would be all kitted up, muscles tensed, waiting and waiting. When you leave the army, it's very difficult to snap out of that. For a long time I still felt anxious.

I was offered anti-depressents but chose not to take them. I went through counselling which didn't work. What has helped me is finding ways to express how I feel. I feel OK and I have the support of my wife who understands what I have been through.

I really feel for the troops in Afghanistan. They are boys who are expected to grow up so quickly. The mental issues start early but only manifest themselves years later.

Man drinking a beer
The military mission in Iraq has lasted six years

I served in Northern Ireland and Kosovo. I was discharged because of injury and I served as a private military contractor across the former Soviet Union.

I started suffering mental health issues in 1997 which was when I went on my first tour of duty. I would get flashbacks and would lose my temper over stupid things.

My worst time was 2005. I had been suffering with mental issues for a while and every time I saw a GP they would prescribe me drugs for depression. I got so frustrated that the tablets weren't working that I started to self medicate with alcohol. I had drank a lot when I was in the services, you do because it's an accepted part of the culture. It's seen as a way of calming down at the end of a day. This time though I was using alcohol to take away the pain. My marriage broke down and my wife and two children moved to England.

My mood changes so quickly that I'm scared to go out in case I lose my temper

When you leave the military, you walk out the door and that's it. You become the responsibility of the NHS. My problems are a direct result of serving in the armed forces but I have been offered no specialist treatment or support. It's a case of 'Thanks, you've done your bit, now you're on your own'.

I'm off the alcohol now but I'm still not better. I've been seeing a psychologist for two years which helps but I have now accepted that this is how life is and will be. My mood changes so quickly that I'm scared to go out in case I lose my temper. I generally stay in the house. I have a girlfriend and a 15-month-old baby son, they help me enormously. My girlfriend has done more to help me than anyone else.

Find someone to talk to, it's the only thing you can do. Drugs and alcohol don't work. Trust me.


My stepfather joined the army when he left school. He served in Northern Ireland and the Falklands. He met my mum in 1985 and left the army to move in with us.

Drinking was all he knew in the army. When he wasn't on duty, he was in the bar with his mates. It was part of the culture and it became a terrible habit which he couldn't kick.

He was violent. He beat my brother with a belt. He would shout and throw things around the house

He saw his friend's leg get blown off which I know affected him. That may have been one of the reasons he drank so heavily but I believe the alcohol dependancy came from him living so long in a culture of drink.

He was violent. He beat my brother with a belt. He would shout and throw things around the house. My brother asked to go to boarding school when he was 10-years-old. He's 36 now and doesn't talk to our stepfather.

I left home as soon as I could and was married at 18. I now have three children and none of them drink. They have all seen what it can do to lives.


My husband served in the navy in the fifties and sixties. He had left by the time I met him. We got married in 1987 and at first everything was fine. He behaved oddly sometimes but I put it down to the quirks of marriage.

When he drank, he was calmer and more amiable. It helped him to forget what he had been through in the navy

It was three years later when I realised something was wrong. He was emotionally violent and angry. He started to binge drink regularly. The drinking helped his mood. When he drank, he was calmer and more amiable. It helped him to forget what he had been through in the navy.

One day though he knew that the drinking had to stop. He became teetotal. I think that's when it got even worse. The drinking had masked his real problems but without this crutch, he became very depressed.

He has tried anti-depressants and therapy. Neither really worked. He now manages his own depression. Obviously I help and support him but it's hard. His first marriage broke down because of the stress. We've been married for 22 years and our marriage is strong but we have to work together to deal with how life in the navy affected him.

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