Filed under: Alcohol
The holiday season is here, and it’s time for parties and gatherings with family and friends. Through these good times, try to steer clear of risky drinking and manage stress well, so you can enjoy the festivities.
Those who consume 4 or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting—or within 2 hours—are binge drinkers. Binge drinking is dangerous, and alcohol can be especially harmful to women. It can impact your speech, memory, coordination, and balance, and sometimes result in alcohol poisoning. Women are more likely to develop liver and heart problems from drinking. And drinking during pregnancy can severely impact fetal development.
Alcohol use can affect your marriage too. It can have a negative impact on other family members as well. Alcohol also is commonly used as a sleep aid for Warfighters and their spouses, but it’s ineffective. While drinking might make you sleepy, it disrupts your ability to get the deep sleep your body needs.
Military wives might be more likely to binge drink than civilians too. They might drink because of stress related to deployment, or they’re exposed to alcohol more frequently at “post-deployment” parties. Some younger wives are more willing to experiment with drinking as well. Some might binge drink to let off stress, but other, healthier coping skills can help you go the distance. Military wives report that what really helps them keep stress at bay is staying busy, exercising, journaling, spending time with family and friends, and focusing on spiritual activities.
It’s fine to enjoy a drink or two at a holiday party, but it’s important to know your limits and drinking patterns. If you’re concerned you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol, understand the signs and symptoms and get help.
Thursday, April 7th, is National Alcohol Screening Day. If you drink any amount of alcohol, it’s a good idea to check in with yourself and assess your drinking habits. You can complete a free online screening assessment from Screening for Mental Health or from AfterDeployment, a Defense Center of Excellence. It takes only a few minutes and can help you determine if you’re on a slippery slope towards an alcohol problem.
If you find yourself engaging in heavy drinking or feeling dependent on alcohol, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. DoD is there for you, and each service has its own program dedicated to helping you get better. You can find links under HPRC’s Service-Specific Substance-Abuse Programs.
When it comes to alcohol, the dose makes the poison. The common (and informed) advice says that if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. What’s considered “moderation”? For women that means up to one drink a day, and for men, up to two drinks a day. Drinking excessively can increase your short- and long-term health risks—including injuries, cancer, and other chronic diseases—and affect your sexual and mental health. Don’t know what’s a “drink” or what’s “excessive” drinking? Do you want to know more about what alcohol can do to you? Find out what you need to know about alcohol and your health in this infographic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Holiday gatherings and alcohol often go hand in hand, but too much of the latter can make for a bad combination. If you choose to drink at your next social event, remember to pace yourself and avoid heavy drinking (more than 4 drinks for men and 3 drinks for women). What’s a drink?
- 12 ounces of regular beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of spirits
Drinking more than that is considered at-risk drinking. Risks involved with drinking alcohol include injuries, motor vehicle accidents, sleep problems, and alcohol poisoning, which can be life threatening. Not only that, but alcohol is high in calories and can add to your waistline—an unwanted consequence, especially if your New Year’s resolution is to lose weight.
No matter how much you drink, always find a designated driver—someone who’s had no alcohol—to drive you home. Driving while intoxicated could cost you your career in the military, your life, or someone else’s life.
For more information and tips on how to celebrate safely this season, see The Truth About Holiday Spirits from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Substance abuse can be detrimental to your health and your career, and it’s on the rise in the military, but you can learn to avoid and overcome it. Stress from active-duty service, deployments, family, and life in general might lead you to try tobacco, alcohol, or drugs as a source of relief. In the long run, though, substance abuse can take a toll on your body and affect your heart, lungs, liver, and mind, putting even more stress on you and your family. Staying clear of self-medication (and the slippery slope of substance abuse) is a good way to stay healthy, be productive, and live longer.
Everyone needs help sometimes, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help with substance abuse. Each service has its own substance-abuse treatment and prevention program to help you get better and return to duty:
- Air Force Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) Program (Check your installation’s website for contact information.)
- Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP)
- Coast Guard Substance Abuse Prevention Program (SAPP)
- Marine Corps Substance Abuse Program
- Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention (NADAP)
For more information on substance abuse, please visit this Military OneSource web page.
Drinking a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time—“binge drinking”—can lead to alcohol poisoning. It’s very serious and can even be deadly. Binge drinking involves more than four drinks for women and more than five for men over a relatively short period. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that an average of six people die from alcohol poisoning every day, with the majority being men between 35 and 64 years of age. Life-threatening signs of alcohol poisoning include seizures, not being able to wake up, fewer than eight breaths per minute, 10 seconds or more between breaths, and low body temperature. If you’re with someone who shows any of these signs, seek help immediately. That Guy, an alcohol education campaign from the Department of Defense, recommends that if you’re ever worried about someone’s alcohol intake, never let them “sleep it off.” To learn more, visit this web page from CDC on “Alcohol Poisoning Deaths.” Not sure how much is too much? Read HPRC’s article, “Had enough to drink?”
The purpose of the 2011 Department of Defense Health Related Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Military Personnel (HRB) is to assess the health practices of active-duty service members. Substance abuse, mental and physical health, and lifestyle choices are important matters, especially when you need to be at your best for the demands of military life. Certain areas of this study directly affect human performance, and results (as reported in the Executive Summary) show that health behaviors vary between services.
Physical Activity/Body composition
Here are some figures from the Physical Activity/Body Composition portion:
- Overall, service members have lower rates of obesity (as defined by BMI) compared to the general public.
- More than one-third of active-duty service members age 20 and older were considered to be at a healthy weight, which exceeds the Healthy People goal as well as civilian population estimates.
- 75% of active-duty members practiced moderate to vigorous physical activity in the 30 days prior to the survey, with Army and Navy personnel having the highest rates.
- Almost half of service members do strength training three or more days a week.
Physical health and fitness are key components to optimal fitness. While these numbers are encouraging, there is no doubt that a larger portion of the military should be at a healthy weight and fit enough to fight. Make fitness and weight management your priority for performance.
- Only 40% of all active-duty personnel surveyed get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
Sleep is an important factor in recovery. Poor sleep habits can take a physical and mental toll on your health, your relationships, and your performance.
Tobacco and alcohol
One area where the military could improve is in the use of tobacco products and alcohol:
- Almost one-quarter of service members reported smoking a cigarette in the 30 days prior to taking the survey, which is higher than the civilian population and the Healthy People objective.
- Smokeless tobacco use is also prevalent in the military with 12.8% of all service members using smokeless tobacco in the month leading up to the survey.
- Rates of binge drinking were higher in the military than in the civilian population and more prevalent in the Marine Corps than in any other branch.
Tobacco in any form is detrimental to your health. If you’re thinking about quitting smoking or would like to talk to someone about your alcohol use, there are lots of resources and professionals that can help you achieve your goal.
Stress and mental health
After more than a decade of ongoing war, troops have—and will continue to experience—significant mental stress as a result of their service. In general, 5-20% of service members reported high rates of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and/or other mental health concerns.
- The most common military-related sources of stress were being away from family and friends and changes in workload but included financial problems and family members’ health problems.
- Women reported experiencing personal sources of stress more often than men did.
- Those who drank heavily were more likely to report problems with money and relationships.
Drinking, smoking, overeating, and even attempted suicide are all negative coping factors when dealing with stress. The survey found that the most effective methods of coping were planning to solve problems and talking with friends or family members. Find out how to use productive and effective methods for coping with stress and mental health.
Nutrition and dietary supplements
Being fueled to fight is an important component for anyone in the military. Proper nutrition requires consuming healthy—and avoiding bad and potentially harmful—foods and beverages.
- According to the survey, active-duty personnel eat too many unhealthy foods such as snacks, sweets, and sugary drinks and not enough of the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.
- More than one-third of personnel reported daily dietary supplement use.
What you decide to put in your body now may affect your performance and your career later. For more information on nutrition for combat effectiveness, read Chapter 15 of the Warfighter Nutrition Guide. And make sure you know what you’re putting into your body. Dietary supplements are not subject to pre-market approval by the FDA, and there are many ingredients that may do more harm than help. You can learn more about dietary supplements at Operation Supplement Safety. And for more information about the Health Related Behavior Survey, visit TRICARE’s webpage.