The Perils of Alcohol Abuse

9 Mar 2010 | Lance Cpl. Johnny Merkley

For Marines, liberty is a time for personal interests and relaxation. But sometimes Marines don’t understand the serious consequences that can occur when they lose restraint, especially when alcohol is involved.


“Alcohol can be a catalyst for many negative things,” said Gunnery Sgt. Carson Zumalt, Barracks Substance Abuse Control Officer. “Age is irrelevant when considering the negative effects it has on a Marines life.”


A Marine can end up spending thousands of dollars just on court fees and attorney expenses when they receive a DUI, not including violation fines and cuts in pay.


“I lost half my pay for two months and had to pay a hundred dollars a month for probation fees,” said Pfc. Mark Fidler, Battalion Training NCO, Headquarters and Services Company. “I’m living paycheck to paycheck just to pay off the loan I had to take out for all the expenses.”


Illegal drinking offenses aren’t the only financial setbacks that come from alcohol. Alcohol can cause Marines to spend much of their paychecks on alcohol, leaving them with very little or no money for emergencies, Zumalt said.
The economic effect of alcohol is dreadful, but alcohol can also destroy your body.


“One night of binge drinking can alter a person’s life forever,” said Zumalt, “Alcoholism is a progressive disease that can force a person to become dependent on its consumption.”
According to drugfree.org, long term alcohol abuse can cause permanent damage to vital organs such as the brain and liver.


“Alcohol is one of the only drugs that can actually kill you,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Monté Grace, Medical Leading Petty Officer, Branch Clinic Navy Yard. “If you try to stop abusing alcohol cold turkey, based on the dependency it could end your life.”


Long term alcohol abuse may have serious health risks, but short term alcohol use can be just as harmful if the substance is abused.


“The impairment of judgment and lack of coherency can cause people to harm others or themselves if not careful,” said Grace. “Several different service members I’ve known throughout my military career have injured the passenger or themselves in car accidents do to alcohol abuse.”


Many times Marines will go out drinking, unaware of how much they are actually consuming, said Grace. A lot of cases Marines drink four to five times the normal intake of alcohol recommended.


It isn’t always the Marines health that is the biggest concern. When a Marine drinks alcohol irresponsibly, often it affects other Marines surrounding the abuser and causes problems for the command. 


When a Marine is caught abusing alcohol he must be evaluated immediately, said 1st Sgt. Peter Ferral, Headquarters and Service Company First Sergeant. With this comes a set back for the entire command and the mission doesn’t get completed in time.


Ferral is hardly a rookie when it comes to dealing with Marines and alcohol abuse. Ferral entered the Marine Corps in 1986, and with his twenty four years of experience, Ferral has seen the ends and outs of alcohol abuse and its effects on Marines.


While serving with 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines in 1997, Ferral watched hopelessly as a fellow Marine in his platoon was kicked out of the Marine Corps for having constant incidents of alcohol abuse.


“He was the best machine gunner in the company!” said Ferral. “When he was discharged we were one man down, making it harder on everyone.”


For years alcohol has been getting the best of Marines and their families. Often, alcohol abuse starts at a young age and increases into a terrible problem over time.


“Many times alcoholics were introduced to alcohol through their parents,” said Grace. “They grew up thinking drinking heavy amounts was the normal thing to do, we have kids drinking at thirteen and fourteen years old in ways of coping with things because that’s the way they see their parents deal with it.”


Whether the abuse originated through family or not, the abuse of alcohol is detrimental for a Marines family, command, and career.  


“Many Marines lose their careers do to alcohol, when you drink, the first thing that goes out the window is judgment,” Said Ferral. “You’ve got to have that smart guy, or designated driver at all times.”


Whether it’s in formation or in writing the Marines appointed in high leadership positions like Ferral continue to push the message of responsible drinking habits.


“If Marines plan on drinking, they need to have a plan. A DUI isn’t just bad because of the punishments that come with being caught,” said Ferral, “it’s bad because of the injury or death you might cause if you make the decision to get behind the wheel drunk.”