Nearly twice as many US army soldiers today compared to six years ago are either alcoholic or engage in damaging behavior such as binge drinking, according to army statistics.
Data shows more than 11 soldiers per 1,000 were diagnosed as suffering from alcoholism or alcohol abuse problems in the first six months of this year, a jump from 6.1 per 1,000 in 2003.
Experts blame the rise on repeated tours in war zones.
On Friday, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told USA Today he believed eight years of combat were at least partially responsible for the rising number of US soldiers with alcohol disorders.
That echoed comments from experts at a conference held in New York in May, who said excessive drinking was a huge problem among US military personnel, even in combat zones in Muslim countries, where alcohol is banned.
Multiple tours of duty in combat zones, with extended periods of time away from family and home, were to blame for the high rate of substance and alcohol abuse, said panelists at the conference sponsored by the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published in the March issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, showed more than four in 10 active-duty military personnel had gone on an alcohol binge in the month prior to the poll.
"Binge drinking, defined as consuming four or more drinks on one occasion for a woman or five or more drinks on one occasion for a man, was reported by 43 percent of active-duty personnel during the past month, resulting in a total of ... 30 episodes of binge drinking per person per year," the study said.
One in five members of the military binge drinks "on average more than twice per week ... putting themselves and others at substantially increased risk for a wide range of health and social problems," and potentially having a negative impact on force readiness, the report said.
Binge drinkers were substantially more likely to "report being drunk while working and being called to work during off-duty hours and reporting to work drunk," the study found.