'Tis the Season for Responsible Drinking

  • Published
  • By Captain John Skicki
  • 27th Special Operations Medical Group

“Happy holidays!” We hear it every year amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, with countless friends, family, co-workers, and advertisements reminding us that this time of year is meant to be enjoyed. However, the holidays are also fraught with stressors that often stem from these very same sources. This stress adds up over time, and research consistently demonstrates its detrimental impact on our health and well-being. Increases in cardiac events, domestic violence, and accidental death all represent a clear danger underlying this otherwise wonderful time. To make matters worse, the advent of COVID-19 and social distancing has drastically bolstered feelings of isolation and decreased access to healthy and fulfilling stress management strategies.

So in an effort to stay productive and find ways to cope, we try to find new ones. FaceTimeing, online gaming, learning new hobbies, and educating ourselves are just a few of the ways service members can stay busy through this time. However, we are all aware of another COVID-safe practice on the rise more recently: alcohol.

In March 2020, The Nielson Company published a study purporting that physical alcohol sales had risen by 54%, and online sales by 262%, compared to the same time period in 2019. And this number has only risen since this time, with the World Health Organization soon after recognizing this rise in usage and warning that alcohol consumption has been causally linked with worsening of mental health concerns and increased risk-taking behaviors.

So what are we supposed to do? While alcohol use is a legal activity that anyone age 21 and older can enjoy and is an age-old human tradition for  celebrating achievements and managing negative emotions, overuse of alcohol as a coping strategy has significant consequences we would do best to avoid. In turn, avoidance of risky alcohol use or overconsumption is as simple and as hard as monitoring your alcohol usage via the what, when, and where approach; what kind of alcohol you are drinking and how much of it you drunk, when you are drinking and over what amount of time, and where you are drinking and what you are doing while consuming alcohol.

 When it comes to what we are drinking, moderate or ‘Safe’ drinking (as it is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) consists of no more than 14 drinks per week, no more than four drinks per occasion for men, and no more than seven drinks per week and three drinks per occasion for women. Standard drink sizes are also an important aspect of drinking to mention. One standard drink consists of approximately 12 fl. oz. of beer, 8-9 fl. oz. of malt liquor, 5 fl. oz. of table wine, or 1-1.5 fl. oz. of hard liquor. Don’t have time to measure out the amount of alcohol you are consuming? The lines on the sides of red solo cups represent standard drink measurements (from bottom to third line up) of 1 fl. oz. of hard liquor, 5 fl. oz. of wine, and 12 fl. oz. of beer.

When we drink, we have to ask ourselves why. Are we drinking when we are trying to forget or decrease negative feelings, or do we drink to avoid the effects of a hangover? If the answer is yes to either of those questions, we probably want to rethink our decision and look for alternative outlets for those negative outcomes.

Lastly, it is helpful to notice what situations are conducive to drinking more, such as at house parties, sporting events, and while alone at home while bored. Additionally, it also goes without saying that we should plan for situations where we may drink more than we should and create situations that will lead to success, instead of life-altering decisions like DUI’s or other alcohol-related incidents (our 27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron Defenders will appreciate the reduction of processing and paperwork). Don’t have a ride home and/or worried you might have to drive your car drunk? That’s not ok and not necessary given that Cannon has a designated program Airmen Against Drunk Driving, to ensure that you have that safe ride home. The AADD program (link: https://www.cannon.af.mil/Home/Airmen-Against-Drunk-Driving/) is an anonymous and free program offered to anyone stationed at here, and requiring only proof of identification and calling this phone number: (575) 784-2233.

All of these tips and tricks aside, alcohol use can begin as a conscious choice and can evolve into an uncontrollable concern if we allow it. The Air Force recognizes this problem, which is why every base, Cannon included, also has a specialty clinic designated for substance use, including alcohol use, treatment. The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) program is designated specifically to provide prevention, diagnosis and treatment of substance misuse and abuse within the active duty population, with treatment consisting of evaluation and individually tailored treatment for self-referral, medical referral, and Command-referred individuals. Granted, we recognize that the vast majority of service members do drink responsibly, as demonstrated by a recent RAND Corporation (2015) study indicating that only 5.4% of service members report persistent patterns of heavy drinking. However, at the end of the day you are not alone if you do begin to notice a concerning trend with your alcohol use and we are here to help you overcome these difficulties.

“Tis the season” can refer to many different things, including a season of celebrations, appreciating those around us that make life fulfilling, and hopefully not too much stress. This year, let’s make a base-wide effort to not make it the season of alcohol-related incidents.