By Staff Sgt. Kirsten Wicker
354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFNS) — The long warm days of summer invite celebration, recreation and relaxation as residents hurry to cram in all their outdoor activities before the cold, dark winter arrives and drives everyone back inside.
One familiar attendee to outdoor social gatherings is alcohol. While many choose not to partake in the summertime ritual of downing a few cool brewskis or chugging a couple shots, many others will make it a part of their lives this summer.
Aside from those pesky hangovers, how much alcohol consumption is too much?
Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Goldston, the 354th Medical Operations Squadron mental health flight and A.D.A.P.T. program NCO in charge, explains some of the psychological effects of too much alcohol.
“About two-thirds of Americans drink alcohol at least occasionally and most of those use alcohol moderately and will never have a problem with it, but it is important to understand that alcohol is a drug and can be very dangerous,” Goldston said. “Drinking too much alcohol can cloud your judgment and make you feel sad or aggressive. It can increase depression, stress and anxiety, disturb your sleep, leave you feeling lethargic and cause you to behave impulsively. The Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions reported that alcohol-related accidents and violence are the leading cause of death among Americans under age 35.”
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking too much on any single occasion or over time, can take a serious toll on physical health, in addition to mental health. Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and can sometimes cause brain or memory damage, it can induce heart abnormalities such as a stretching or drooping of the heart muscle and irregular heartbeat. It can reduce the effectiveness of the liver, causing fatty liver or alcoholic hepatitis. Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion. It can also weaken the immune system, making the body a much easier target for disease, including various cancers.
“Alcohol is a pervasive part of the military culture,” said Staff Sgt. Sean Reval, the 354th Security Forces Squadron training manager. “Sure, not everyone drinks, but to many it is a way to unwind after a stressful day or week. Everyone has heard the phrase, ‘everything in moderation’ and it applies to alcohol too. Getting drunk to the point of blacking out or alcohol poisoning can have serious consequences.”
Experts say recognizing the signs of drunkenness are just as important as knowing how much alcohol is in a drink.
“It doesn’t take much before a person begins to feel intoxicated and the effects are obvious,” Goldston said. “Slurred speech, the inability to stand or walk, loss of coordination and memory, temporary flushing of the cheeks, emotional outbursts and even unconsciousness are just a few of the obvious signs of intense intoxication.”
For military offenders who receive DUIs, punishment can be much more severe.
“Maximum (Uniform Code of Military Justice) punishment for a DUI with no injuries or deaths means the service member could be imprisoned, stripped of their rank and pay, and receive a bad conduct discharge,” Reval said. “Besides, you could kill yourself or someone else. If you kill someone else, imagine how that would feel knowing you caused their death because you drank too much and decided to drive.”
Across the Defense Department, there is rising concern about the rate and amount of alcohol consumption among service members. A recent report by the Institute of Medicine called drugs and alcohol abuse among service members a “public health crisis.” While 21 percent of service members admit to drinking heavily in response to emotional adversity, the DOD spends $600 million each year treating illnesses due to drinking too much alcohol.
Encourage your Airmen to enjoy their summer festivities with alcohol if they choose, but to do so wisely and look out for one another.
“Alcohol may be legal, but it is still simply another drug that can be toxic to the human body,” Goldston said. “We want folks to enjoy themselves and relax and drink a beer, but don’t drink to blackout or do something stupid and end up watching your career, your life, or someone else’s life as a result get washed down the toilet.”
Goldston recommended good safe drinking guidelines for men, are no more than four drinks per day and no more than 14 drinks per week, and for women, it would be no more than three drinks per day and no more than nine drinks per week.
“If you know someone that you feel drinks more than they should or you witness someone drinking too much, be a good wingman and intervene before they do something stupid,” he said.