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Check Your Drinking this Alcohol Awareness Month

Alcohol use has long been associated with military culture. For many who serve, drinking is a way to bond with other soldiers, relax during times of stress and “let loose” in an otherwise highly structured in environment.

That being said, the military also has a history of alcohol misuse among its service members. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), military-related traumatic stress increases the risk for people to abuse alcohol. The VA also reports that 27% of veterans in VA care diagnosed with PTSD have Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD), which is the dependence on drugs, alcohol or smoking.

This April is Alcohol Awareness Month and a reminder to get updated on the warning signs and harmful effects of alcohol abuse. If left unchecked, long term alcohol abuse can lead to heart problems, liver disease, diabetes, neurological complications and other serious mental and physical health problems. Especially for veterans, who served in high-stress environments and conflicts, it’s important to understand when having a few drinks “just to relax” can cross the line to alcohol abuse.

What is alcohol abuse?

Alcohol abuse occurs when you engage in harmful drinking habits, such as binge drinking, and it can lead to alcohol addiction. According to WebMd, “When you abuse alcohol, you continue to drink even though you know your drinking is causing problems.”

Alcohol addiction, also called alcohol dependence or alcoholism, is when you have a physical or mental addiction to alcohol. In other words, you feel strong cravings for alcohol, or feel like you need a drink just to get through the day. It’s important to understand that alcoholism is NOT a weakness. It’s a chronic disease, and those who are alcohol dependent need treatment and support to overcome their addiction.

How much is too much?

According to the NIAAA, low-risk drinking for women is no more than three drinks on any given day and no more than seven drinks per week. For men, low-risk drinking is no more than 4 drinks on a single day and no more than 14 drinks per week. Heavy drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks on one or more occasions per week.

Here are the standards for one drink:

  • 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of regular beer (about 5 percent alcohol)
  • 8 to 9 ounces (237 to 266 milliliters) of malt liquor (about 7 percent alcohol)
  • 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine (about 12 percent alcohol)
  • 5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 80-proof hard liquor (about 40 percent alcohol)

Am I alcohol dependent?

How do you know if your drinking habits are a problem? According to the Mayo Clinic, people who are addicted to alcohol often don’t realize their dependency or recognize that many of their problems are connected to drinking.

Why do you drink? Is it for recreation? Do you drink to mitigate your stress, forget a painful event, or fall asleep? Do you regularly engage in heavy drinking? Have family members or friends raised concerns about your drinking? These are all questions to consider when evaluating your drinking habits. There are also a number of signs and symptoms people experience when they are alcohol dependent:

  • You experience withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink, such as nausea, sweating or shaking
  • You have developed a tolerance to alcohol so that you need to drink more to feel its effects
  • You feel unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • You feel a strong craving for alcohol
  • You keep alcohol in unusual places
  • You have lost interest in hobbies that used to give you pleasure
  • You get drunk intentionally to “feel good” or “feel normal”
  • You have developed a habit of drinking at certain times and feel annoyed when this routine is disrupted
  • You drink alone or hide your drinking
  • You feel irritable when your usual drinking time nears, especially if alcohol is not available
  • You experience “black outs,” where you don’t remember conversations or commitments
  • You have legal problems or problems with relationships due to drinking

Seeking Treatment:

If you have experienced one of the above signs or symptoms of alcohol dependence, you should consider making an appointment with your doctor. If you are alcohol dependent, your doctor will be able to provide a diagnosis and consult with you on different treatment options.

If you are a veteran, the VA also has several important resources for vets struggling with alcohol dependence.

  • The MyHealthy Vet portal offers a free screen test that indicates your risk for alcohol dependence.
  • Use the VA’s SUD Program Locater to find a center near you and make an appointment. The SUD treatment programs are specifically for veterans overcoming alcohol or drug dependence.
  • Learn about the VA’s treatment options by visiting their website today.
  • If you are a combat veteran or have experienced sexual trauma in the military, you can visit your local Vet Center free of charge and without an appointment. You just need to bring your DD-214.

Overcoming alcohol dependence is not an easy process, but it’s important to seek out treatment sooner rather than later. The support you need is out there. If you need assistance and don’t know where to go, call us at 614-230-0662 and we’ll get you the help you need.