5 ways to take control of your alcohol use

Whether it’s during a stressful PCS move, upon return from deployment, or just one of those days where it feels like nothing is going right, it’s easy to reach for a few beers or a bottle of wine to cope. One drink can easily turn into five, and over time you can lose track of how often—and how much— you drink alcohol. Is the short-term stress relief worth the risks to your health and military career? Learning how to recognize if you have a problem can be the first step to take back control. The decision to do something about your drinking can be a gradual process. Even if you aren’t sure you can quit, or if you’re feeling guilty about your problem, there is help. Asking for support takes a lot of courage and strength, and it significantly increases your chances of changing. The 5 tips in this article offer valuable information, including links to other resources, on when and where to reach out if your drinking is beginning to impact your health and performance.

  1. Identify the problem. Are you at risk? Moderate amounts of alcohol every so often might help you cope in the short term by providing opportunities to connect with peers who relate to your experiences. However, if your drinking begins to interfere with people and things that matter to you, you might be at risk for alcohol misuse.
  2. Know where you stand. Even if your drinking habits fall within the acceptable ranges, it’s important to take a good look at why and when you find yourself consuming alcohol. Many Service Members struggle to cope with the emotional or psychological distress that can come from a life of service or deployment. Get a handle on whether you use alcohol as a coping strategy, and if you do, start thinking about options.
  3. Make a list. Are you ready to change your drinking? Weighing the pros and cons might help. There is value in identifying the reasons you might want to change your drinking behaviors, as well as some possible barriers.
  4. Plan for urges. Small changes can make a big difference in handling your urges to drink. When you can’t avoid a trigger and an urge hits, consider reminding yourself of your reasons for changing (it can help to carry a them in writing or store a photo in your phone). Helpful alternatives might include talking with someone you trust or engaging in a distracting activity such as physical exercise or a hobby that doesn't involve drinking. Or instead of fighting the feeling, accept it and ride it out without giving in, knowing that it will soon pass.
  5. Get help. Finding help can feel overwhelming, but going online can be a small, manageable step to get the ball rolling. Numerous resources are available to answer your questions about alcohol use, misuse, addiction, and treatment. If you’re ready to reach out, a good place to start is That Guy, a DoD-supported campaign.

Bottom line

High OPTEMPOs at work and home can cause you to look for quick solutions to long-term challenges. While drinking as a coping strategy might make you feel better at the time, it can interfere with your performance, relationships, and well-being. Take control of your drinking and seek the support you or your family member needs.

References

Ames, G., & Cunradi, C. (2004). Alcohol use and preventing alcohol-related problems among young adults in the military. Alcohol Research & Health28(4), 252–258.

Ames, G. M., Cunradi, C. B., & Moore, R. S. (2002). Alcohol, tobacco, and drug use among young adults prior to entering the military. Prevention Science3(2), 135–144.

Heinz, A. J., Pennington, D. L., Cohen, N., Schmeling, B., Lasher, B. A., Schrodek, E., & Batki, S. L. (2016). Relations between cognitive functioning and alcohol use, craving, and post-traumatic stress: an examination among trauma-exposed military veterans with alcohol use disorder. Military Medicine, 181(7), 663–671. doi:10.7205/milmed-d-15-00228

Jacobson, I. G. (2008a). Alcohol use and alcohol-related problems before and after military combat deployment. JAMA, 300(6), 663–675. doi:10.1001/jama.300.6.663

Jacobson, I. G. (2008b). Military combat deployment and alcohol use—Reply. JAMA, 300(22), 2606–2607. doi:10.1001/jama.2008.765