Marine Corps and Army report disproportionate substance abuse, mental health issues

According to a Rand study published on Tuesday.

And the reason may have more to do with culture than the individual troops themselves.

The researchers compared the services using 2015 Department of Defense survey data from nearly 17,000 active duty soldiers.

Marines themselves reported the highest instances of binge drinking, alcohol dependence, and nicotine use, as well as the highest rates of depression and anxiety. The study found that the Army had the highest rates of prescription drug abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder, while the Air Force and Coast Guard reported the highest prevalences. weaker.

“After adjustment, service members of the Army, Marine Corps, and Navy had nearly two to three times the risk of multiple mental health problems and substance use behaviors compared to the ‘Air Force,’ according to the study’s findings, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Addiction.

The question is why, and that’s something the study can’t answer.

Even comparing demographics across services, as well as multiple, specific, and traumatic experiences in combat zones, substance abuse and mental health issues were disproportionately prevalent in the Army and Marine Corps.

“PTSD was found to be more prevalent among servicemen in the Army and Marine Corps than in other branches of the service,” according to the report. “Analyses of military health system data from 2005 to 2016 indicate that the prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders has increased since 2005 and is disproportionately high among service members of the military, compared to other branches.”

The culture of service can have an effect, not just because of the stigma around mental health treatment, but because heavy drinking is so common.

“Other contributing factors may include variations in military culture and attitudes regarding substance use as well as stigma and barriers associated with seeking behavioral health treatment,” according to the study. “Culture and attitudes, particularly toward alcohol and tobacco use, have been found to vary across service branches, with previous work suggesting that the Marine Corps, in particular, has more permissive standards regarding the consumption of alcohol and tobacco.”

Indeed, survey data showed that 74% of Marines surveyed and 69% of soldiers believed the military culture was supportive of alcohol consumption, compared to 60% of Coast Guardsmen.

The study also identified sexual assault and harassment as risk factors that may affect not only mental health issues, but also substance use among service members.

“Risk of sexual assault has been shown to vary significantly across branches of service – rates of sexual assault are approximately 1.7 times lower among Air Force women and four to five times lower among Air Force men, compared to Air Force men. the Army, Navy and Marine Corps,” according to the report.

Although services have made great efforts to improve mental health resources and better understand addiction as part of mental health issues, the study added that the use of these resources varies from service to service. other.

“Previous studies have demonstrated that military service members underutilize behavioral health services, likely due to factors such as public and internal stigma, negative attitudes or distrust of providers, or organizational barriers,” according to the report, although the authors note that the military reports the highest utilization rates of its behavioral health services.

The researchers suggest that further study is needed on the differences between the services, especially digging into the differences between troops that have never deployed.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at the Military Times. It covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership, and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT

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