More than one in 10 veterans seeking care at the U.S. Veteran’s Administration meet the criteria for a substance use disorder diagnosis. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, this figure is slightly higher than the rate among the general population. Reasons for that are multifold, ranging from the stresses of training and deployment, to military lifestyle and culture.
Creation of the military, specifically the Marine Corp, has its roots embedded in the use of alcohol. The United States Marine Corps (then known as the Continental Marine Corps) was founded in 1775 in the Tun Tavern, in Philadelphia, a popular pub that became the base for recruiting and enlisting marines. Little did the founders of the Corps know that the drinking culture established at the organization’s creation would have lasting ripple effects on military service members of all branches.
In the military, alcohol is still used today as a social tool. It is lauded as the drink of choice while on liberty, or on leave from military work or assignment. It often becomes a weekly means to de-stress from military life. And, it can be overused to “help” get a service member through a difficult workday, particularly among the most daring, and those at risk of punishment and separation under the United States Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Unfortunately, these customary rituals of alcohol use can continue long after separation from military service. What’s more, alcohol can serve as a gateway drug that may lead to the use of other illicit substances.
Veterans often fail to disclose personal issues stemming from military service or related to substance use, either because they fear being perceived as “weak” or worry about repercussions, such as punishment.
Self-medication with alcohol and other drugs can become the means by which veterans deal with their problems. The results can be devastating, leading to martial discord or divorce, run-ins with the law, incarceration and homelessness, to name a few.