Alcohol Abuse Prevention

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jessica H. Williams
  • Mental Health Flight Chief, Altus AFB
The month of April is designated nationally as Alcohol Awareness month. Unfortunately, the Coronavirus put a hiccup in some of the activities of the 97th Air Mobility Wing Medical Group’s Alcohol & Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) program. This made me start to think about some of the unique stressors this pandemic has placed on each of us and how stressors like this can exacerbate some existing issues some of us may have already been going through. Many times alcohol can be the closest “friend” some people have and they turn to it in a myriad of situations. It is the constant in their lives when they are excited, happy, sad, lonely, bored, nervous or uncertain. The emotional ups and downs over the last month may be a mixture of many of these emotions, simultaneously for some, making it a time in which they have sought out refuge with alcohol.  
I find it important for everyone to know the basic knowledge about alcohol, its effects, and how we can provide education on many of the aspects of alcohol that many are not aware of. Some of you may already be experiencing negative consequences or effects and not even know it. It is important to know when the right time is to seek help, and what resources, agencies, and organizations are available to assist and/or guide you or your loved one.
I have been a Certified Alcohol & Drug Counselor for 19 of my 23 years in the Air Force. I have found this field extremely rewarding and challenging at times. One of the hardest parts of my profession is seeing how much a person is willing to sacrifice as a result of their drinking. From a loss of a relationship with spouses and children to losing a career in the military, to even losing their life or taking someone else’s. Alcohol is one of the most socially accepted and abused drugs, next to caffeine, in the world. Most cultures accept alcohol as part of their normal daily life and don’t typically think about the potential consequences of its use. 
Alcohol falls under the drug class of Central Nervous System (CNS) depressants. If you aren’t sure what your central nervous system controls, think about what you see police officers testing when they are doing field sobriety tests. Your CNS is responsible for regulating all of the bodily functions you don’t think about such as: breathing, heart rate, coordination, response time, gait, speech, and your senses. The more you drink, the more all of these functions are affected. So let’s talk about why people drink. 
Each drug has something that attracts it’s users to it. For alcohol, that is the feeling of euphoria which is better known as a buzz and is described as a relaxed and calm sensation for many. If you have ever experienced a hangover or bad experience when you drank and swore you would never do it again and then did...the euphoric feeling is why. 
When someone consumes alcohol, it takes approximately 1-3 servings of alcohol to feel the benefits associated with euphoria. For people that have a higher tolerance, it may take slightly more to get to that feeling of euphoria.  People will continue to drink once they reach that feeling because they want to maintain that sense of a warm, fuzzy relaxed state which is referred to as “chasing the buzz.” However the more alcohol you consume you just become more intoxicated and don’t actually maintain that feeling.
Knowing how much you are drinking is vitally important. Most people tend not to keep a gauge on how much alcohol they are consuming or are even aware of what the serving sizes of alcohol are (see chart below).  
A trick to use to assist in keeping up with how much you are drinking is to refer to how much you are consuming by servings, not drinks. This is important because someone can mix a drink that actually contains multiple servings. For example, a long island iced tea contains on average five servings of hard alcohol! According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA), it is also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle regarding alcohol by limiting the amount of alcohol you are consuming (See chart below) at a time. 
National Institute of Alcohol & Alcoholism
Many people are in denial about the significance of their alcohol use and how it may be affecting them or those around them. Denial assists one with being able to justify their behaviors and at times the negative events that occur, which then will assist in perpetuating the unhealthy behaviors. Many times it takes something significant occurring in an individual’s life such as a DUI, loss of a relationship, multiple reckless events, or even getting sick to realize their drinking has become problematic. Surprisingly, most people do not have an epiphany that their drinking has become problematic on their own, without a wakeup call. 
So how does someone start to identify they may have a problem?  We previously discussed just a few of the consequences that can occur from alcohol abuse. If you are experiencing one or more of the following, it may be time to modify your drinking habits: 
  • If you are experiencing hangovers after most episodes of drinking
  • Drinking to intoxication on most occasions of use
  • Drinking to the point of vomiting
  • Not remembering things from when you are drinking (Blackouts)
  • Your friends or family talking about how much you drink (Can be in the form of jokes or concerns)
  • Not engaging in non-alcohol focused activities
  • Losing non-drinking friends 
  • Drinking and driving
  • Getting into fights and arguments while you are drinking
  • Frequently engaging in risky/hazardous activities when drinking 
  • Having medical problems related to alcohol use 
  • Spending large amounts of money on alcohol
  • Using alcohol to relax, deal with depression, anxiety and/or pain management
  • Spending most of your personal time drinking (to include playing video games under the influence)
  • Not being able to be in social situations without alcohol (needing alcohol to “be social”)
  • If you feeling a sense of panic if you are not able to drink
  • Needing alcohol to start your day or throughout the day to prevent physical/emotional discomfort
If you want to know if you have a problem or are curious about your drinking habits, there are anonymous free surveys you can take that can assist you in identifying if your alcohol use may be problematic. You can use the site which will provide you immediate feedback about your alcohol use. 
Altus AFB and all Air Force installations have a dedicated staff to assist with issues like alcohol. The ADAPT program is part of the Mental Health Flight and is charged with ensuring our population is healthy and able to perform their jobs as needed. Many times the alcohol culture of the Air Force is equated to that of college campuses. Alcohol is also very socially acceptable amongst the Air Force culture making it sometimes hard to identify those who are struggling with their use. 
The objective of the ADAPT program is to rehabilitate members identified as having problems with alcohol to full duty status and continue to function fully in their jobs. The program is designed to assist in the education and/or rehabilitation for members identified as having a problem with alcohol. In July 2018 upon the revision of the AFI, there was a new provision added that a member can self-refer to the program for alcohol if they have not been involved in an alcohol-related incident and unless they are diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder (or other safety concerns) their Command does NOT have to be notified. This allows us to intervene and provide some preventative education prior to there being other long-term implications. The ADAPT program here at Altus only sees active duty members but does assist with identifying resources and services for family members, retirees, and civilian employees. There are also self-help groups with online resources for support such as Alcoholics Anonymous and the SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) Recovery Programs which have chat rooms, reading resources, and other useful tools for your use. 
If you need any additional resources, please feel free to contact the Altus ADAPT clinic at 580-481-5376.