By Lt. Cmdr. David Barry
DCoE clinical psychologist
For many, drinking alcohol in moderation isn’t a problem. For others, keeping within appropriate limits can be challenging. So what’s appropriate drinking? And how do you know when your drinking is excessive or risky?
Many have misconceptions about the answers to these questions. Primarily young adults believe that as long as they don’t get too sick, black out or drive while intoxicated, their drinking is appropriate. However, not remembering events from the night before, experiencing hangovers and getting sick are all signs of excessive, unhealthy drinking.
Whether at a party or at a bar, it’s easy to unintentionally engage in excessive drinking, since the alcohol content is not always apparent. A standard drink is equal to one 12-ounce beer (5 percent alcohol), five ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol), or a 1.5-ounce shot of 80 proof alcohol. So, drinks like a “large” 20-ounce beer from a restaurant, the microbrew with a kick, or the strong-mixed drink from the bar are greater in alcohol content than one standard drink.
Binge and heavy drinking are problematic drinking behaviors within the military. Binge drinking is consuming five or more drinks (four or more for women) during a typical drinking period, usually more than two hours. Heavy Drinking is consuming more than four (three for women) drinks on a single day and no more than 14 (seven for women) drinks per week.
According to the most recent health behaviors survey, within a 30-day period, 46 percent of service members binge drink and 20 percent drink heavily. Research is uncovering that combat exposure and deployment-related psychological stress is associated with an increase in frequency of binge and heavy drinking.
Engaging in binge or heavy drinking can place your safety and health at risk. Approximately 80,000 Americans die each year because of alcohol-related medical conditions or alcohol-related accidents. Nearly one-third of all traffic deaths in the United States result from alcohol consumption.
Moderate drinking increases your risk for heart disease, liver disease, depression, sleep disorders, stroke, bleeding stomach ulcers and cancer. Additionally, those who binge drink regularly are nearly twice as likely to have a heart attack compared to those who drink moderately. Although the media has reported health benefits for drinking limited quantities of alcohol, the risks associated with light to moderate alcohol drinking may outweigh any positive health effects.
After a decade of war and significant advancements in medical and behavioral health, the military has launched several prevention strategies and campaigns to deglamorize alcohol, educate service members and promote healthy lifestyles. As alcohol remains a problem for many service members, it also remains an ongoing concern within the military.
When choosing to drink, it’s important to recognize why you’re drinking (stress relief, social occasion, to unwind, etc.), have a plan and set a drinking limit. Alcohol in moderation can be appropriate, but when misused it can have devastating effects on your life and those around you.
Learn more about improving your health by visiting the resources listed below and if you have a problem, speak with your provider today.
- VA Services: Substance Abuse Programs
- Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator (800-662-HELP/4357)
- Military Pathways