Craig G. Coverdale, a former officer with the Army and staffer on the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, announced yesterday that he is running as a "nuclear freeze" candidate for the Democratic nomination for the 8th Congressional District seat held by Virginia Republican Rep. Stan Parris.

Coverdale, in his first bid for elective office, told a group of about 100 supporters that he resigned earlier this month from the arms control agency to run because, "I'm absolutely terrified by the saber rattling of the current administration."

Coverdale, 52, became the first candidate to announce for the 1984 race for the 8th District, which stretches from Alexandria along the Potomac River to southern Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford counties. Other Democrats reportedly interested in the seat include state Sen. Richard L. Saslaw and Fairfax County Supervisor Sandra L. Duckworth.

Coverdale has not been active in the Democratic Party, but he believes that by announcing 12 months before the primaries he will have time to build a political base.

He is the son of a career Army officer and a graduate of West Point and the National War College, with graduate work in Middle East affairs at Princeton University and a master's degree in international relations from George Washington University. He served in the Army from 1953 to 1978 in various positions in Europe, the Middle East and Vietnam, where he was wounded by an enemy grenade and received several medals.

"War is not nearly as glamorous as the Ronald Reagan war movies would lead us to believe," Coverdale said. "I want a secure America, and I also want to stop the arms race before it stops the human race."

On other issues, Coverdale, who has lived in Northern Virginia 11 years, said he supports the Equal Rights Amendment. He criticized the civil rights record of the Reagan administration.