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Do war-weary troops have drinking problem? Marines launch get-tough policy.

Recent Pentagon surveys indicate that after a decade of war, a 'shocking' number of troops say they're heavy drinkers. On-duty Marines found with even low levels of alcohol will be sent for counseling.

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Responding to recent internal reports that, after a decade of war, a growing number of troops consider themselves heavy drinkers, the Marine Corps has announced a new get-tough policy: Personnel who tally a blood alcohol content of .01 or more while on duty will be sent straight to counseling.

A level of .08 is considered legally drunk in most states.

The new policy – in which all Marines will be tested randomly twice a year – was announced as 2012 drew to a close and in the wake of startling recent statistics about the rise in binge drinking among troops since 2001.

In 1998, for example, 35 percent of troops in a Defense Department-sponsored survey considered themselves binge drinkers.

Ten years later, that figure had grown to nearly half. At the same time, nearly one in four troops surveyed called themselves “heavy” drinkers.

And this heavy drinking has consequences, says Col. Timothy Foster, chief of staff of Marine and Family Programs at the US Marine Corps Division Headquarters, in an interview this week.

“If you look at the number of behavioral health issues – whether it’s suicide, sexual assault, or spousal abuse – all of those have one factor in common, and that is alcohol,” he says. “If we put our efforts towards reducing alcohol abuse and misuse in the Corps, these other things will not be totally eliminated, but it will certainly have an effect on those.”

The figure of .01 is relatively low, Foster acknowledges, and could result from less than one drink, or a drink hours earlier, depending on body size. The point, he says, is whether there is a positive result or not.


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