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Alcohol Awareness Month: The Why’s and How’s of Responsible Use

  • Published
  • By Mr. Steven Belcher, LPC, AADC, LCDC
  • 7th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron

Alcohol Awareness Month occurs each April, each year, in part because of how easily problems associated with alcohol use can occur any time and anywhere alcohol is consumed. Overall, use is up since Covid-19 impact and restrictions began, with a 54% increase in national sales of alcohol for the week ending March 21, 2020, compared with the year before while online sales rose 262% from 2019 (per research from the Nielsen Company). The benefits of alcohol are obvious, the good feelings, shared fun with friends, and excitement to try something interesting, whether that is a different drink, activity, or a meeting someone new.

The bad effects of problematic use are less visible and can creep up on the unsuspecting person. When used improperly, alcohol can contribute to poor decision-making, negative physical health effects (e.g., weight gain, high blood pressure, cancers, heart attack, sexual dysfunction, sleep impairment, stroke), negative mental/neurological health effects (e.g., increased anxiety and depression, wet brain), and damage to personal and professional roles and relationships.

A best-practice approach of having a good time with drinking while also preventing problems is to choose responsible drinking, having 1-2 standard drinks per session only a few times a week (1-2x). A standard drink contains the amount of alcohol that raises blood alcohol content (BAC) by 0.2 for males and 0.3 for females, respectively. BAC is the amount of alcohol in your blood and can be measured through breath, urine, and blood tests. Differentiating between healthy use and binge drinking, heavy drinking, and hazardous or disordered drinking also reduces likelihood of negative consequences. Binge drinking is generally defined as a pattern of drinking alcohol that raises BAC to 0.08. Heavy drinking for males is more than 5 drinks on any day or more than 14 a week for and for females is more than 3 a day or 7 a week. Hazardous/disordered drinking is a pattern of problematic use that may meet criteria for an alcohol-use disorder.

As best-practice may not always occur, also consider a few ways to reduce likelihood of immediate negatives (e.g., alcohol poisoning, DWI, physical injury, public intoxication charge, relationship distress, sexual assault) even when drinking at higher levels. Remember that initial effects can occur in as little as 90 seconds but take about 1 hour per standard drink to out-process (1 hour per drink, if more than one drink is present the others are “waiting in line” at the liver). Having a DD/sober ride service, setting an approximate plan for the evening (cost, alcohol content, and calories can be calculated here), watching drinks to keep them safe from date-rape drugs, being ready to say no when pressured to have more than you intend or feel comfortable having all go a long way, being among friends, and assessing your physical (full stomach and good night’s sleep prior) and mental state before and during use will go a long way toward keeping the time fun. For those experiencing difficulties with mental health or interpersonal relationships, the Mental Health Clinic and Family Advocacy Program are located at the 7th Medical Group and are standing by to support at 325-696-5380.

Another important consideration is tolerance vs. blood alcohol content (BAC). While BAC is objective (see online calculator here), tolerance can be more subjective and is a measure of how we feel and how responsive we are based on established pattern of use. Tolerance occurs when a substance is regularly used to the extent more is needed for the same effect or when less effect occurs from the typical amount (learn more about tolerance here). As more alcohol is used, BAC will rise and the risk of impact to health and safety increases as shown in the attached chart.

While no plan is perfect and things may happen beyond your control, you can even the odds towards a good evening by remembering the ABCs:

A.) Assess if it is a good time to drink. Are you physically (up on food and sleep) and mentally (not angry, depressed, worried, or apathetic) good to go?
B.) Be with people who will have your back. Ideally this will include a “designated thinker” who is keeping an eye on everyone (could double as a DD). Also means be with people who also drink responsibly and won’t pressure you to do things that are unsafe or that you’re uncomfortable with.
C.) Consider how long and how much to have before starting. Each drink makes the next easier, so taking your time, mixing in water/soda/etc.
D.) Do occasionally include things not dependent on drinking. Drinking stays more enjoyable when it is an occasional, unnecessary part of your recreation/relaxation routine. If it feels necessary or inevitable, this may be a sign use is less about fun and more about habit or need, and can mean it’s a good time to consider cutting back for a while.
E.) Enjoy yourself! Life is often filled with things we need to do but might not necessarily enjoy. Use that downtime away from work to do things you love, try new things, and share fun times with friends and family. A responsible approach to drinking keeps things fun, safe, and gives you options each day that problematic drinking could take away.

Responsible use starts with you and includes looking out for your friends and family (for help with concerns about a military spouse’s use, see resource here). The Dyess ADAPT (Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment) Program is available to answer any and all questions related to drinking and other substances, real and hypothetical (“asking for a friend!”). For those considering changes to their alcohol use, education and treatment are available at no cost for active-duty service members and prior patients serving as peer mentors are also available to answer questions about their program experience. Alcohol use is often a normal part of life but when problems occur, it helps to talk about it. Simply call 325-696-5380 and ask for an ADAPT Program representative to learn more.

• Alcohol and Health:

• Alcohol and Impact to Relationships:

• Alcohol and Sexual Assault:

• Comparing Healthy, Binge, Heavy, and Hazardous/Disordered Drinking:

• Date-Rape Drugs and Alcohol (gender neutral)

• Impact of Alcohol-Related Injuries:

• Online Calculators for drink size, cocktail content, calorie, BAC, and $ cost over time:

• Mental Health Effects of Alcohol Abuse and Dependence:

• Physical Health Effects of Alcohol Abuse and Dependence:

• Tips For Those Considering Change:

• Tools for Coping with a Military Spouse’s Drinking:

• Understanding Alcohol Use Disorders:

• Understanding Alcohol Poisoning:

• Understanding Alcohol Tolerance: