Tools to stop the progression of alcohol abuse

  • Published
  • By Maj. John Batka
  • 96th Medical Operations Squadron
About 90 percent of Americans have or will have a problem related to their drinking. About half will have more than one negative life-event while intoxicated. These consequences are costly in both terms of money ($185 billion/year) and lives (about 85,000/year). With the costs so high, we must act to reduce these problems. There are a lot of things the members of Team Eglin must do.

First, recognize alcohol is a source of many problems. It isn't the first sergeant's fault your friend is in trouble. It is the drinkers' fault for being late to work, not staying in shape, getting a DUI, or worse. We must be honest when we see a connection between a Wingman's problems and their decisions.

Next, recognize people do more of what gets rewarded and less of what gets punished. For most people drinking is fun and all they see are the benefits of drinking. The costs of drinking usually take time to occur (hours for a DUI, weeks of usage for relationship problems, and years for physical issues). Hiding or ignoring the negative behavior makes you complicit. We actively hurt those around us when we "help them" stay drunk by purchasing their alcohol, hiding their tardiness from others, ignoring the symptoms, or even not commenting when they mess up. This "hurt" happens because alcohol acts as a reward and we have prevented any "punishment" for their behavior. They will not change until they see the consequences of their actions.

We must also be aware of our own usage; we are responsible for ourselves. Military members are responsible for being in excellent physical condition as a part of their commitment to their country. Misusing substances is a sure way to damage the only body you get. Excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading preventable cause of death. Civilians and military have a responsibility to themselves and their families. If you choose to drink, be aware of when, how, and what results from your own alcohol usage. Model appropriate behavior by never drinking (any amount) and driving, always have a plan, and listen to your Wingman. Don't forget your Wingmen see you and can be influenced by what we do.

Next, support those who wish to make changes to their alcohol consumption. It is extremely difficult to make even small changes. If you have ever tried to stop chewing your fingernails, begin exercise routine, or alter your eating habits you know how difficult it can be. Making a change to drinking alcohol is much more difficult and the changes impact all areas of life. So the person you support will change in very noticeable and unpredictable ways. A true Wingman is supportive of positive changes.

Remember, if the person does not stop drinking the costs will keep rising. Although we cannot predict the problems for any one person we do know they build on one another. If they are not ready to change when their drinking is criticized by their spouse, the next cost may be a loss of non-drinking leisure activities. If they are not ready to change then they will end up being tardy to work. Not being confronted at work will be followed by legal problems. No matter what cost so far, continuing to drink will cause more losses.  Perhaps as many as one out of three people arrested for a DUI are repeat offenders.

A true Wingman helps by identifying dealing with the problem now and not waiting until the losses mount. Be prepared to make the hard decisions and confront bad behavior, support attempts to change, and be prepared to identify problems to command and other authorities. This is not "ratting out a friend," this is being a Wingman and embodying "integrity first" that is a guiding principle. If you fail as a Wingman, they will continue to struggle until someone else steps in. This may be too late for their career or even their lives.

Please take a moment and consider what you can do to be a better Wingman. This may be uncomfortable at the time, but it is the only way to help them improve themselves. You may even help them make positive changes in their lives. Now is the time for you to make a difference for yourself, your Wingman, and Team Eglin.