Take Action: Alcohol Awareness Month – Think before you drink

April is “Spring into Action Month” that highlights five national campaigns; Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Alcohol Awareness Month, Month of the Military Child, Volunteer Month, and Financial Literacy Month. Throughout the month of April, we will highlight how even the smallest action can make a big impact to those around you. Follow this series here on All Hands to learn about all of these national campaigns.

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This blog post was originally published in April 2015 as the seventh post in a series titled “Dialogue with the MCPOCG.”  As the Coast Guard’s senior enlisted leader, Cantrell is responsible for advising the Commandant on workforce issues, and advocating for military benefits and entitlements.

Written by Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell, with information provided by Mark Mattiko, the Coast Guard’s substance abuse prevention program manager

Official portrait of Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven W. Cantrell.

Official portrait of Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven W. Cantrell.

You’ve already heard that April is Alcohol Awareness Month, designed to increase command awareness and understanding, reduce stigma, and encourage people to focus on alcohol-related issues.

Similar to situations when Coast Guard personnel may see behavior that could potentially lead to a sexual assault, they should practice bystander intervention anytime they see someone making unsafe choices related to alcohol, and any other potentially unsafe activity/behavior. Don’t just stand back and hope for the best or say it’s “not my problem.”

Often, it’s the fear of receiving, or causing another to receive, an alcohol incident that becomes a barrier to intervening or reporting. It’s your duty to protect your shipmates if they’re at risk of hurting themselves or someone else. Additionally, intervening early and at low levels, such as by asking an intoxicated member if he/she has a plan for transportation home or ensuring he/she is not left alone, makes it less likely that the situation will escalate. In other words, taking action early should curtail or put an end to the dangerous situation, thus preventing an alcohol incident.

The effects of alcohol misuse and abuse continue to be significant for the Coast Guard and have an impact on our ability to execute our missions.

Half of all arrests of Coast Guard members are alcohol related, with DUI being the number one reason for alcohol-related arrests. According to the 2013 State of the Behavioral Health of the United States Coast Guard report, alcohol can contribute to high anxiety, depression, loss of work productivity, domestic violence, and a series of other negative consequences.

Research also suggests that other problems such as suicidal ideations, prescription drug abuse, and physical abuse are all correlated with alcohol abuse. Some statistics about the link between alcoholism and certain so-called co-occurring disorders – such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders – are also available from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

The bottom line is that we can no longer ignore the negative impact alcohol has on our military service and our mission readiness. As service members, we must adopt healthier attitudes about alcohol and its effects on our health, performance, and mission readiness; if we choose to drink, we all have a duty to do so responsibly.

The Coast Guard Substance Abuse Prevention Program uses the NIAAA’s guidelines for what constitutes low-risk drinking behavior. There are, of course, occasions when zero drinks is most appropriate, such as when driving, using machinery, cleaning or using a weapon, or taking medication. If a person chooses to drink alcohol, he/she should consume no more than one “standard alcoholic beverage” per hour and never consume more than three in one day. Much more information can be found at NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking website and downloadable publication.

The Coast Guard’s Substance Abuse Prevention Program has focused its efforts on preventive care, emphasizing that individuals in need of intervention should seek help “early and often.”

I encourage all commands to review Rear Adm. Maura Dollymore’s ALCOAST 118/15 about Alcohol Awareness Month. If not already scheduled, unit Command Drug and Alcohol Representatives are encouraged to provide alcohol prevention training.

** You can read the 2017 ALCOAST here.

Editor’s Note: Members seeking help for an alcohol-related concern have the option of making a self-referral, which is non-punitive. Alternatively, units may also make a command referral to medical personnel to get members the support and compassionate care they need, without initiating disciplinary or administrative proceedings.

If you believe you or someone you care about may have a problem with alcohol, please reach out now and get help. Recovery happens.

And, to hear one Coast Guardsman’s personal story of recovery, read this blog post from the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy or watch the video below.

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