What are the causes of the recent increase in alcohol related incidents? Where can we look for the causes, and what can we do to try and curb these problems? There is no silver bullet to the age old problem of alcoholism, but if we look at the symptoms and identify the core issues within military culture, then maybe we can start to find a way to reduce the problems. In my estimation, the first issue to address is binge drinking.
What is binge drinking? There are millions of people in the United States addicted to alcohol and millions more who are displaying the symptoms of alcohol abuse − one of these symptoms being binge drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as “having five or more drinks in one session.” Binge drinkers are often unpredictable and suffer from mood swings and personality shifts while under the influence of alcohol, which makes the combination that much more volatile. During early adulthood, almost half of all male drinkers will experience some alcohol related problem (DUI, argument, arrest, blackout, etc.) as a result of binge drinking. It is estimated that more than two million people a year drive under the influence of alcohol, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show 17,000 alcohol-related traffic fatalities a year. Furthermore, 40 percent of all fatal motor vehicle accidents are alcohol related, according to the U.S. National Safety Council. Since perceptions and behaviors are blurred under the influence of alcohol, annual alcoholism statistics from the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse show that, in addition to traffic accidents, alcohol abuse causes 1,400 deaths, 500,000 injuries, 600,000 assaults, and 70,000 sexual assaults annually.
So how do we slow down the binge drinker? There are many theories. The first is to raise the cost of alcohol, especially in Germany, where a bottle of water rivals the cost of a beer. Simple math shows that people can’t drink what they can’t afford to buy. Second, educate the binge drinker − not just on the dangers of alcohol but on stress management and identifying mood swings and depression in fellow Airmen that can be the catalyst for a night of excessive drinking. Helping Airmen to find different avenues and alternatives to deal with personal crisis and being able to recognize danger signs is a key to any type of behavioral prevention. A third method is to recognize any critical moments in a person’s life that might trigger a binge drinking episode (marital or relationship problems, death of a loved one, disciplinary actions at work, etc.) The most common events in today’s military are frequent deployment that creates the tendency to come home and “tie one on” or hit the bars one last time before deploying.
Binge drinking is nothing new. American society has long been a culture that embraces the Friday night binge used to vent weekly stresses. But, the truth for many is that when a few drinks becomes a few too many, negative things happen. Inhibitions fall with the use of alcohol and the angry drunk begins to look for a fight or something to vandalize. The sad drunk begins to contemplate suicide or other self destructive behavior. The drunken individual, with the inability to think and act with the restraint, clarity or rationale of a sober person, makes poor choices. Unfortunately, in today’s military we cannot remove all of the stress that accompanies the high tempo life style, but we can learn to identify the triggers of self destruction within ourselves and others. By recognizing the binge drinkers and heading off this behavior, we can quiet the shots of stupidity that have been ringing in our ears.