Alcohol Consumption and Security Clearances

Alcohol consumption is legal (if you are of age) and it is perfectly acceptable and normal in most social settings, right? So why is it a potential issue for those who want or already have a security clearance? Alcohol affects each individual a bit differently, but when someone drinks excessively the potential for impaired judgment, reduced inhibitions, and aggressive or high risk behavior increases. Statistics have shown alcohol abuse, more often than not, precedes violent or aggressive behavior. The security concern is that in an alcohol-induced state of mind carelessness, impulsiveness, and being more easily manipulated may cause an unauthorized disclosure of classified information. When tied in with foreign intelligence recruitment methods such as using a “honey pot’ or taking photos during involvement in other compromising situations, the abuse of alcohol is a legitimate security concern. As in most adjudicative guidelines, it falls back to one’s trustworthiness, reliability, and good judgment.

Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are the two terms most often used by mental health professionals when evaluating someone who has alcohol related issues, incidents, or behavioral problems. Alcohol dependence usually involves regular, daily drinking where it is no longer a choice, but a need. Alcohol abuse may involve only occasional binge drinking, but to the point of physical incapacitation or unconsciousness. In evaluating drinking behavior the amount of daily consumption and amount consumed occasionally at a single sitting are both important. Understanding the “why’ someone drinks is also relevant. Immaturity or succumbing to peer pressure, recent life events or changes, ant-social tendencies, and physical pain relief are also considered when evaluating

Even one DWI/DUI arrest can be an indicator of alcohol abuse, as research has shown that it is highly unlikely the arrest was an isolated lapse in judgment. It is more likely that they have done it numerous times before and have just not been caught. That is not to say that just one alcohol related arrest or incident will prevent you from holding a security clearance. Rather, when put together with other issues such as family problems, job performance, or financial woes, it may be viewed as an indicator for a larger issue. Here are ways to mitigate concerns about alcohol consumption:

  • Understand what alcohol abuse and dependence are and assess yourself honestly; if you recognize that you may have a problem then acknowledge it and take proactive measures to change.
  • If you can’t do on your own, seek help through counseling or treatment programs; stick with it and don’t quit, follow through to completion; don’t allow relapses and remove yourself from environments where alcohol use is prevalent.
  • Abstinence (especially if voluntary) or responsible use and time passed since any alcohol-related incidents are always a big plus in your favor in helping an adjudicator make a decision.

By making positive changes in your lifestyle regarding alcohol consumption you are demonstrating to the adjudicator that you are reliable, trustworthy, have sound judgment, and are able to exercise an appropriate level of discretion, thus overcoming and mitigating the security concern.


  1. Good input. When you have a cleared employee placed into ASAP, or behavioral education classes make it clear they must successfully complete the program or their clearance is at high risk. I am often asked if a DUI will cause revocation. I tell them it “can, based on severity, aggravating circumstances, repeat behavior, etc.” Normally my client allows the court and treatment programs to work through to their conclusion. Getting kicked out of an ASAP class or counseling program, or having bad reports from the car machine…is prima facia evidence against you and indicates no positive progress. If they sign an agreement to remain 100% alcohol free then that is exactly what they must do. Some machines test for metabolites of alcohol being broken down and not just blood alcohol levels as one employee found out the hard way. Successful completion of a treatment program is required to mitigate a medical determination of alcoholism. Even though falling off the wagon is expected for many struggling…it isn’t a good thing for one’s clearance if it happens.

  2. Amberbunny,
    That is a great statement to make to employees who have alcohol (or any) issues. As my old friend, Perry Russell-Hunter, Chief of DOHA, says when he is asked whether an incident will affect someone’s eligibility, he responds with “It depends”. The behavior is an issue and “it depends” on how the individual mitigates the problem NOT complying with court-ordered rehabilitation or physician’s recommendations will, in all probability, result in a clearance denial/revocation. Its a character issue - its not always WHAT you do, but HOW you recover or fix from what you have done. Too many Security Managers/FSOs do not understand the adjudicative guidelines or how to shepherd their employees towards a favorable outcome of bad behavior.

  3. Ouch. The only reason I can think of why this happened is because dui’s can fall under the 13 adjudicative guidelines and suitability criteria. The latter are used for public trust positions. It does happen but is not common (I think) for SO’s to tack on adj. guidelines not also covered by suitability, onto public trust suitability determinations.

  4. I can personally attest as someone who has a felony in his past. Mistakes happen. I’ll be the first to admit that. That was my case but I’ve also seen Stresses in life can make us make bad decisions as well.

    He might need to wrap his head around what’s causing his desire to drive drunk “to be too great”. There is a level of self control that is imperative to life, not just work.

    I think the level of consumption does play a factor. Dwis and duis are different in my opinion.

    I have been on the wrong side of judgmental people as well.

    A few months ago I was working overnight shifts stocking shelves for 10 bucks an hour.

    If he continues to do the right thing I’m sure doors will open up.

    I’m almost 35 . have a masters, speak 3 languages, and have tons of experience.

    Life happens and showing humbleness is important.

    I believe he’s might have learned his lesson over the last year. Just needs to show some persistence and patience.

    Good luck to him.

  5. Each person is a unique case. One DUI is bad. We make mistakes. Multiple is even worse. Your friend is tipping the scale against his favor but I suggest he change his lifestyle and be truthful. In the event he does not he should maintain a positive lifestyle, then in couple years he can reapply with greater success than the first time around.

    Also, I dont think him having the interlock device permanently would fix anything other than suggest he has greater issues than seen from the surface.

  6. Yes . . . DUI and DWI are the same thing. Each state has their own law, there is no federal law and each state calls it what they want. You can have three DUI’s and two DWI’s if you live near a state border . . .

  7. Lol its bad ok. Dui 2 and 3 were a week apart.

    Not a good look.

    How honest should be be lol. He didn’t think the 2nd dui was fair or legit so he mentally ignored it completely and that is why the 3rd one happened right after the 2nd one. He made no behavioral changes at all. In his defense, the 1st one was in 2012 so for 5 years he was doing smthn rite.

    I dont he think shouldnt be able to work…but I acknowledge (even if he his my friend) how bad two dui(s) a week apart looks.

  8. So he will have the device in his car to prevent him from drinking and driving ever again. Fair enough. But that doesnt solve his drinking issue. Whats there to say he doesnt come to work drunk? Whats there to say he doesn’t do anything questionable at the bar? Even worse, he may even spill classified information and not recall it at all.

    Do you see my drift? The issue isnt the DUI. The DUI is one component of the whole mess hes portrayed himself to be. So have the device in his car all he wants it wont help his case by a landslide. We’re also talking about multiple DUIs not one or two…

  9. Is it impossible to get a DUI with the device in the car? Sure . . . Leave the car running; start car and THEN start popping the brews; defeat the device; have someone else blow; get another car; steal a car (you are, after all, drunk); drive your wife’s car or your son’s . . . .

    You see how it goes on and on . . .

  10. There’s a lot there and it’s difficult to formulate a response because your question isn’t completely framed. You asked "how can I explain that? There are many ways that it can be explained but you are the only one who can determine how YOU can answer. What you have written here shows no remorse because you pretty much say that you would continue if you thought that you could get away with it. That’s a really poor attitude and doesn’t reflect well on you as a person.

    What I see when I read your post is that you don’t think that rules apply to you. That isn’t good for someone trying to keep their clearance.

    You don’t say anything about what the current status of your clearance is. Do you have an SOR or LOI?

    A few suggestions . . . Get your ass into counseling. You can do drug and alcohol or just straight up therapy. You say that you don’t have a problem with alcohol but you do and you need to learn that if you want to stay in this industry. Next, talk with a clearance lawyer. Even just a free consult for now. Third . . . I don’t know what your qualifications are but you need to explore employment outside of the cleared world.

    I don’t say any of this to be a jerk or to hurt you. You need to get your head together if you want to keep your life together.