Substance Abuse and Addiction in the Marines
Substance abuse and addiction know no boundaries and can affect people from all walks of life. Unfortunately, this includes military personnel and veterans.
There is a growing concern in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) due to rising rates of abuse, co-occurring mental health disorders, and suicide. If you or a loved one is a Marine struggling with substance abuse, it’s important to understand some of the issues that lead Marines to abuse substances, as well as the first steps for finding recovery and sobriety.
Substance Misuse in the Marines
Substance misuse in the Marines is a growing problem. Due to high levels of stress, high expectations for performance, and rates of co-occurring mental health disorders,1 Marines see higher rates of alcohol and drug use than other parts of the military.1 In particular, Marines struggle with high rates of binge drinking, drug abuse, PTSD, and suicide.2
Binge Drinking is a Big Problem for Marines
Marines see the highest rates of binge drinking in the military. Binge drinking is considered a public health concern, in which an individual consumes several drinks in a short period of time.
Marine Corps alcohol abuse statistics show that Marines are the most likely group in the military to struggle with binge drinking. A survey showed that 42.6% of people in the Marine Corps participated in binge drinking in the past 30 days.2
Aside from the impaired inhibition and long-term health effects that occur from alcohol abuse, binge drinking can also foreshadow alcohol use disorder (AUD). While binge drinking and AUD don’t always accompany one another, compulsive drinking and binge drinking can be signs of alcohol addiction.3
Some signs of alcohol use disorder can include:3
- Regular binge drinking.
- Strong, frequent cravings to drink.
- Continued drinking despite negative consequences.
- Unsuccessful attempts to cut back.
- Withdrawal symptoms like shakiness, depression, anxiety, nausea, or sweating after cutting back.
Drug Use in the Marine Corps.
While alcohol abuse plagues the Marine Corps, drug use in the USMC is also a considerable problem. Due to the Marine Corps substance abuse policy, many Marines are discharged for drug use.4 Despite there being a drop in positive drug tests amongst Marines, many established in the Marine corps still use drugs.5 Stressors commonly felt by Marines, such as high expectations and the stress of combat situations, can lead to using drugs as an unhealthy coping mechanism.1
Some signs of drug addiction include:6
- Using drugs despite negative consequences.
- Strong cravings.
- Neglecting family, friends, and yourself.
- Neglecting other responsibilities in favor of using.
- Tolerance to the drug’s effects and escalating doses.
- Withdrawal symptoms after stopping or cutting back.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse Resources for Marines
Marines need not struggle through addiction alone. The Marine Corps Substance Abuse Program is available for Marines who struggle with drug or alcohol abuse. There are also discussions about USMC alcohol policy, specifically about limiting how much alcohol Marines are permitted to keep in their barracks.
There are also various hotlines for veterans and Marines going through moments of crisis, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) groups.
These hotlines can help Marines in crisis:
- Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255
- DSTRESS Line: 1-877-476-7734, or a live chat online.
Mental Health Concerns
Co-occurring mental health disorders are common in individuals who struggle with addiction. Certain co-occurring disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are more common in military veterans.7 This is due to the intense pressure of combat zones and high expectations placed upon military personnel.1
Additionally, factors of combat, such as what a given soldier’s duties are, the politics of the war, the location of the war, and the type of enemy being faced, can also impact a veteran’s risk of mental health disorders.1
PTSD in Marines and veterans remains high due largely to the fact that Marines are often put in stressful combat situations. It is estimated that anywhere between 11% and 20% of veterans from the Iraq War struggle with PTSD.
Some Marine PTSD symptoms include:8
- Flashbacks, often accompanied by physical symptoms like an elevate heartbeat and sweating.
- Nightmares or frightening thoughts.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Changes in mood or feeling tense or “on edge”
- Feelings of guilt.
- Negative thoughts.
Decade-long Rise in Suicides Among Marines
If you are a Marine or a military veteran struggling with mental health disorders, please remember that you are not alone. There are several veterans-specific hotlines ready and willing to help you through moments of crisis:
- Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255. You can also chat or text.
- DSTRESS Line: 1-877-476-7734, or a live chat online.
Unfortunately, many veterans and Marines find returning home from the battlefield to be a unique challenge, especially if they are also struggling with PTSD or other mental health disorders. These conditions, coupled with the stigma against asking for help that is present in the USMC, can leave Marines feeling isolated and misunderstood. This is perhaps why, despite a slight dip in 2019, the suicide rate amongst Marines has risen this past decade.9
There are programs designed to help Marines through crises. The Marine Corps Substance Abuse Program has close connections with the USMC’s suicide prevention program. This program helps Marines recognize the warning signs of suicide, connects them with suicide prevention hotlines, checks up on them for 90 days after a suicidal ideation or suicide attempt, and helps teach healthy coping mechanisms.
Help for Veterans Through American Addiction Centers
American Addiction Centers (AAC) prides itself on its veterans’ specific treatment track. The Salute to Recovery Program is available at two of AAC’s facilities: Desert Hope in Nevada and Recovery First in Florida.
Recovery First’s Salute to Recovery program offers veterans an evidence-based approach to addiction treatment. Blended in with this program is treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders that commonly affect Marines and veterans, like PTSD. Some of the staff involved with Salute to Recovery are veterans, allowing them to connect with former Marines more closely.
If you or a loved one is a Marine or a USMC veteran struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction, don’t wait to retake control. A healthy life in recovery is just a phone call away.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.) How common is PTSD in veterans?
- Military.com. (2018). Binge-drinking rates are highest in these military services.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Alcohol use disorder.
- USMC Life. (2019). Almost half of booted Marines are discharged for drugs and alcohol.
- MarineTimes. (2019). Top Marine says most Marine recruits require a drug waiver. But does the Marine Corps have a drug problem?
- National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers. (n.d.). Warning signs of substance misuse and substance use disorder.
- Booth-Kewley, S., Highfill-McRoy, R.M., Larson, G.E., Garland, C.F., & Gaskin, T.a. (2012). Anxiety and depression in Marines sent to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 200(9), 749-757.
- National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Post-traumatic stress disorder.
- MarineTimes. (2019). The Corps’ suicide rate is at a 10-year high. This is how the Marines plan to address it.