Marines Seek to Curb Their Boozing
But changing the Corps' binge-drinking culture is proving to be a challenge.
The US Marine Corps may have been born in a bar, but concern is growing over how much time its members spend there. To combat unhealthy boozing habits, officials are developing an alcohol-abuse campaign to educate Marines about the consequences of drinking—an idea that isn't necessarily popular. “What’s interesting about this campaign is it is such a huge cultural shift for the Corps that it’s not been well received so far,” says Dr. Keita Franklin, who led a study of focus groups of hundreds of Marines in all ranks. “It’s getting at the heart of people’s drinking habits. It’s such a personal issue for them. … [One Marine] was telling me, ‘You’re not going to fix this problem. It’s what we do. It’s just getting caught that’s the problem.’”
Despite this resistance, officials the issue as one that can no longer be ignored. Promoting “responsible drinking” hasn't proved adequate, as that means something different for everyone: “We asked Marines in the focus groups, ‘What’s responsible drinking?’” Franklin says. “And the first Marine that answered the question, in the first focus group at Camp Lejeune, was like ‘18 or so beers?’ Another one stood up and was like ‘No, not 18. More like 15.’” The new program would push the idea that even one drink can put an individual at risk, through everything from drinking and driving to impaired decision-making. The education would begin before individuals even report to boot camp, and continue through entry-level training and at the unit level. Alcohol abuse is involved in about half of the Corps’ sexual assaults—of which there were 333 reported in 2011—and a third of its spousal abuse incidents. “If we reduced our alcohol numbers, would we reduce our domestic violence and child abuse numbers, our sexual assault numbers, our DUIs?” Franklin asks. “Would we alleviate people taking prescription drugs because they’re struggling with post-traumatic stress and they’re masking it with alcohol? … If we could just get these [alcohol numbers] down a little, it would have spillover effects for the other areas.”