The stresses and culture of military service may put Marines at risk of substance abuse and addiction. Fortunately, there is hope. Not only do the Marines offer programs available to active-duty servicemembers, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers treatment options not only with the VA but in the community when they are unable to meet the veteran’s needs themselves. If you’re struggling, there are a multitude of options for you to get help.
Marines’ Substance Abuse
Drug and alcohol abuse is a serious and costly issue for the Marine Corps. In just 10 years from 2009 to 2019, more than 11,700 Marines were discharged for drug and alcohol-related issues, costing the Marines Corps more than $1 billion.1 A large portion of new Marines also require drug waivers prior to being enlisted.1
Alcohol use disorders are the most prevalent type of substance use disorders among military service members.2 Problematic drinking may begin or escalate during service. A 2015 survey found that approximately 30% engage in binge drinking, which involves drinking 5 or more drinks in one episode for men, or 4 or more drinks in one sitting for women.3
Compared to other branches of the military, binge drinking, heavy drinking (engaging in binge drinking at least 5 days in a month), and hazardous drinking (alcohol use that meets criteria for an alcohol use disorder) were all highest in the Marine Corps.3 In the same survey, more than 2/3 of active-duty service members felt that the military culture supported drinking.3 Marines who feel that alcohol is easy to access and affordable, as well as Marines that feel drinking is part of being in their unit, are more likely to binge drink.4
Prescription drug misuse is also an issue for some servicemembers. The same 2015 survey found that about 4% of military personnel misused prescription drugs.3 Painkillers were the most commonly abused type of medication.3
Certain factors may put Marines at higher risk of developing substance abuse problems, such as:2,5,6,8
- Deployment and combat exposure. These experiences, which are often linked to extreme stress and trauma, can increase a person’s risk of developing an addiction.
- Family history. Service members who come from families experiencing dysfunction, such as parental substance abuse, may be more likely to develop problems themselves.
- Workplace culture. When drinking is encouraged, easily available, and affordable, military personnel may be more likely to abuse alcohol.
- Mental health issues. Service members, especially those who have experienced combat exposure, are more likely to develop depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These conditions often occur with substance use disorders.
- Physical injuries. Service members who have been injured during combat are more at-risk of abusing substances. Back and knee-related injuries are the most common cause of limited duty for Marines. Veterans who are injured during service, especially those who also suffer from mental health issues, may be more likely to abuse opioids if prescribed painkillers post-injury.
Signs of Substance Abuse in Veteran Marines
Substance abuse is a significant problem among military veterans.5 Even though the VA has expanded their efforts to address the issue, the number of vets dealing with substance abuse problems continues to increase.5 For some veterans, substance use that starts during service can continue or worsen after service ends. Vets who experienced deployment, combat, and difficulty readjusting to civilian life are at an increased risk of developing substance abuse problems.5
Signs that a veteran may be dealing with a substance abuse problem include:7
- Difficulty controlling drug or alcohol use.
- Failed attempts in the past to stop or cut back.
- Using substances in risky situations, like while driving or operating heavy machinery.
- Failing to keep up with responsibilities at home or work.
- Using drugs or alcohol despite health problems that are caused or worsened by substance use.
Identifying substance use problems is important because they are linked to medical and mental health issues, relationship and job-related problems, and suicide attempts.5 Fortunately, there are services available for active duty and veteran Marines.
Marine Substance Abuse Resources
There are several resources Marines and family members can utilize for help with issues such as drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness, grief/loss, or relationship problems.
Marine Corps Substance Abuse Program
The Substance Abuse Program provides evidenced-based treatment for active-duty Marines dealing with drug or alcohol addictions.9 The program is offered on each Marine Corps base. It offers prevention, education, counseling, case management, and referrals to local treatment services. Marines are assessed for a range of issues, including substance use, traumatic brain injury, suicide, and mental illness, and then treated at a level of care specific to their needs.
Marine Corps Community Counseling Program
The Marine Corps Community Counseling Program (CCP) offers short-term counseling, education, training, and care coordination for active-duty Marines and their families.10 Counseling is offered for a variety of different issues, including stress, grief and loss, anger, anxiety, and relationship problems. They also provide referrals for mental health care and can assist in navigating the healthcare system. Each Marine Corps base houses its own Community Counseling Center.
Marine Corps DSTRESS Line
This hotline is available for active-duty Marines, veterans, and families who need help. Calls are answered 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. This anonymous hotline serves individuals who are dealing with crises, suicidal thoughts, deployment, and financial or relationship problems. You can reach the DSTRESS Line by calling 1-877-476-7734.11
VA Rehab for Veterans
The VA offers evidenced-based substance abuse treatment for veterans.12 At the VA, vets have access to a range of treatment options, including: 12
- Short-term counseling.
- Intensive outpatient.
- Residential treatment.
- Medical detoxification.
Vets can participate in group, individual, and marital therapy, attend self-help groups, and receive medications to control cravings. Substance abuse treatment through the VA also addresses other issues like depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Using the VA to Get Treatment at Desert Hope
The VA also offers veterans substance abuse treatment through the community care program.13 Veterans who are eligible for community care can see providers outside of the VA at the same cost as a VA treatment center.13 In order to be eligible for the program, vets must first receive approval through the VA.14
Desert Hope, located in Las Vegas, Nevada, is an approved community care provider. Desert Hope offers the Salute to Recovery program specifically for veterans and first responders. Veterans can access many different levels of care, including medical detox, inpatient, and outpatient treatment. In our veterans’ program, veteran Marines will have the chance to participate in individual therapy and groups specifically designed for them. The opportunity to connect and recover alongside other vets sets Desert Hope apart from other private treatment facilities.
- Commandant’s Planning Guidance. (2019). 38th commandment of the Marine Corps.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). DrugFacts: Substance use and military life.
- Meadows, S. O., Engel, C. C., Collins, R. L., Beckman, R. L., Cefalu, M., Hawes-Dawson, J., … & Williams, K. M. (2018). 2015 Health Related Behaviors Survey (HRBS). Rand Health Quarterly, 8(2), 5.
- Woodruff, S. I., Hurtado, S. L., & Simon-Arndt, C. M. (2018). US Marines’ perceptions of environmental factors associated with alcohol binge drinking. Military Medicine, 183(7-8), e240-e245.
- Teeters, J. B., Lancaster, C. L., Brown, D. G., & Back, S. E. (2017). Substance use disorders in military veterans: Prevalence and treatment challenges. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 8, 69-77.
- Sirratt, D., Ozanian, A., & Traenkner, B. (2012). Epidemiology and prevention of substance use disorders in the military. Military Medicine, 177(suppl_8), 21-28.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
- Defense Health Agency. (2018). DOD Health of the Force 2018.
- Marine Corps Community Services. (n.d.). Substance abuse.
- Marine Corps Community Services. (n.d.). Community counseling.
- Marine Corps Community Services. (n.d.). DSTRESS Line.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Mental health: Treatment programs for substance use problems.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Community care: Community care.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Community care: Veterans overview.