A new study found that female enlistees and war veterans of the United States army are less likely to consume alcohol as compared to their civilian counterparts. The study was published today in Armed Forces & Society, a SAGE journal published on behalf of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society.

While a related study showed that rate of alcohol consumption is almost double in male soldiers as compared to their civilian counterparts. This difference between male and female soldiers may boil down to the intrinsic differences between the sexes and how experience on the battlefield changes it. "Women react differently to their experience in the military than do men," said researchers Jay Teachman, Carter Anderson, and Lucky Tedrow. For their study they interviewed 9,000 men and women who were in active service in the U.S. military or who were military veterans. The respondents were asked about their alcohol consumption in the past 30 days.

Women soldiers drank significantly less than their male counterparts and much less than civilian women too.

"We suspect that part of the reason for the negative link between military service and alcohol use for women is the threat of sexual harassment and assault that is common in the military. Alcohol use is tightly linked to sexual assault, both within and outside the military, and women who serve may become particularly aware of this linkage,”  said researchers.

Sexual assault against women in the army has been a well-highlighted problem for several years now. In her book ‘The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq’, Helen Benedict illustrated the issue through nterviews of women who have served in the army. According to the book, most women veterans who come back home suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), which stems not just from combat experience but also from the gender specific discrimination they may have endured at the hands of colleagues. A report in the The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) suggests that the new responsibilities of serving in combat support roles make women more vulnerable to PSTD. Women, who make up only 15.7 percent of the active army,  are twice as likely to suffer from PSTD than men.

There is also another reason, according to the researchers, that women veterans are not too into heavy drinking.It may also be the case that in order to justify their place in the military that women abstain from using alcohol, especially to the extent that their participation in particular military occupation specialties based on use of alcohol is subject to critical review based on their gender", they wrote in a press release

The study found that irrespective of the danger, the time served in the army was proportional to alcohol use, so those who served longer were more susceptible to alcohol use. Additionally, both men and women enlistees who have served in a combat zone are the most likely to use alcohol.

"Our models, while not perfect, provide evidence that military service leads to more alcohol consumption among service members that would have been the case if they had not served," the authors concluded. "This finding should provide for increased emphasis on efforts to reduce the culture of alcohol consumption in the military."

Source: Teachman J, Anderson C, Tedrow L, Military Service and Alcohol Use in the United States, SAGE, 2014.