ADAPT program assists service members with alcohol problems

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
April is designated as Alcohol Awareness Month, and the Altus Air Force Base Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program is urging Airmen to look out for each other when it comes to identifying alcohol abuse.

"The ADAPT program is specifically aimed at providing treatment and prevention services to our active duty service members in uniform, but for civilians, we still give them evaluations and referrals and still offer them treatment on a case-by-case basis if they are willing to do it and we have the availability," said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Erik Menjivar, who is the ADAPT program manager for Altus Air Force Base.

There are typically two types of patients treated under the ADAPT program, diagnosed patients and non-diagnosed patients. About 95 percent of the people seen are non-diagnosed, meaning they come through, they have an evaluation and the staff do not see anything that would classify them as abusing or dependent upon alcohol or drugs, said Menjivar. "Those individuals usually end up here because they made a poor decision. They didn't think things through, there was maybe peer pressure involved and didn't decide to stick to their plan."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 1.4 million drivers arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in 2010 alone. This year on Altus Air Force Base, there have been four DUIs reported to the ADAPT program.

"It's usually just a momentary lapse of judgment. We educate them and tell them that this is what you have to start thinking about any time alcohol is involved; you need to decide what's more important - your career, your family, your ability to function at work. If they start going toward where alcohol or drugs are more of a priority, then we start assessing them to see if they are dependent upon alcohol or drugs," said Menjivar.

The second category of patients have actually been diagnosed with dependency or abuse of alcohol or drugs. Those individuals tend to have a coexisting condition that typically results in them becoming more addicted. Some of those are risk factors like family members who have dealt with addiction, if they've been exposed to a community or lifestyle growing up where alcohol or drugs are easily accessed and consumed, if they are around a lot of peers who find alcohol consumption to be the norm.

"Peer pressure plays a big piece of it too, but it doesn't necessarily lead to addiction. Somebody has to create some really bad habits along the way that leads to addictive behavior, but there are also those risk factors," said Menjivar. "There's also some research that shows addiction can be hereditary, which means the person is more likely to acquire addictive behaviors themselves."

Alcohol-impaired automobile accidents account for nearly one-third of traffic-related fatalities in the U.S., according to the CDC. The Air Force places emphasis on Airmen making conscious decisions when it comes to getting behind the wheel of a car after consuming alcohol. When self-awareness fails that person, it is the responsibility of people around them to speak up and say something.

Stopping poor decisions at that particular moment is sometimes easier than recognizing that someone is using alcohol excessively.

"It is sometimes even tough for us. In our evaluations, we have to, a lot of times, go off of what the person in front of us is saying, and there are times that we can get information from people around them about how their behaviors have changed over time," said Menjivar. "For the ordinary peer though, to identify somebody as having an alcohol problem is really tough. We have functioning alcoholics out there who come into work intoxicated, not just hungover. As long as they don't smell or give off some kind of odor, they can function very well at work while under the influence."

For Master Sgt. Stephen Slattery, alcohol was an important part of his life, even before he joined the Air Force. He was one of those people who never dealt with hangovers and he felt that alcohol made him better at what he did.

"I come from a long line of addictive generations, so it seemed like the disease of alcoholism was just there waiting for me," said Slattery.

He asked for help one day at work, and admitted to his supervisor that he had a problem. His supervisor immediately called ADAPT to see what options were available for the master sergeant. He was admitted into a rehabilitation center in Wichita Falls, Texas, for 30 days.

It took 18 years for him to seek help, and for him, it was now clear that alcohol held him back in his career. He earned two awards in his career - his squadron's Airman of the quarter when he was a senior airman, and once at the senior NCO level. Besides that, he never accomplished more, because alcohol was such a priority in his life. "I was so defeated and sick, but after rehab and while in the ADAPT program, I felt so good," said Slattery, who has been sober for just over year now. So good, in fact, that shortly after seeking help, his supervisor decided to put him in for senior NCO of the quarter. He won not only at the squadron and group level, but at the wing level as well.

"That's the difference between my life with alcohol and sober," he said. "Seeking help through ADAPT didn't hurt my career, but it made my career so much better. If I would have sought help sooner, like the first year I was in, everything would have been much different."

Everyone has different indicators, but for Slattery, he was always labeled the heavy drinker whenever he went to the bar. He always coaxed people to go out with him, even if they had gone out the night before. Coworkers and friends should take note of trends like that, and speak to that person if they think they may be using alcohol inappropriately.

"Honestly, it comes from being around that person. They start to give you certain flags that indicate they are probably having some kind of problem with alcohol," said Menjivar. "A lot of times it's just giving up their priorities. If they are a father or husband or typically a star performer at work and you start noticing all that drop off, like missing time at work or missing time with their family. That tends to be a red flag not only for addiction, but for coping with alcohol."

Coping with alcohol typically happens with people who start withdrawing from others because they are either depressed, overly anxious about a situation or just don't want to be around other people because they don't want to hear them get on their case about alcohol drinking, said Menjivar. Sometimes a change in mood may be an indicator of not only alcohol problems, but deeper issues like anxiety or depression.

"Behaviors change. They put alcohol first, above everything else - above work, above time with their family, above relationships with their peers - it becomes them, it consumes them and becomes their priority," said Menjivar.

Sometimes there are physical signs of addiction like sweating. If they sweat when there is no reason to, like while in an air conditioned room, then that may be a sign of alcohol withdrawal.

"We strive to get more people in here who are self-referred. It definitely shows the motivation, the desire to change, the acknowledgement that something is wrong and they are relying on alcohol too much. They want to build something more adaptive, more positive, something better than alcohol," said Menjivar. "It's not that we can't work with people who don't self-refer, it's just working with them first to try and acknowledge and get past the denial that alcohol is a problem in their life. That's where the real work is - helping someone addicted to alcohol realize that there is a problem in their life."

Many patients who have been in the program agree that treatment was the best thing for them because they finally had a chance to remain sober and helped them think more clearly about their situation. Once they began working on different ways to cope with things, they realized that life was really not as bad as they thought it was while drinking, said Menjivar.

"We're not against drinking, which a lot of people don't understand. Responsible drinking has a place in some people's lives, and that is okay," said Menjivar. "The majority of people in the service use alcohol appropriately - they don't use it to cope with negative feelings or emotions. We're not out there to ruin careers or change your way of life or how you view alcohol, but we want you to understand what responsible alcohol use looks like and where the road to alcoholism starts, so you can identify it in yourself and others."