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Alcohol Awareness Month: time to educate, not condemn

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- Many adults drink moderately and responsibly without complications. Having a drink of alcohol is a popular way to relax at the end of the day or spend time with friends and family. There are even indications from research that some can derive modest health benefits from an occasional drink.

However, excessive drinking can have dangerous short- and long-term effects. April is Alcohol Awareness Month and serves as an opportune time to think about the health and social problems that arise as a result of drinking too much.

Alcohol Awareness Month is not a time to condemn alcohol or individuals who decide to drink. It is a time to educate, draw attention to and reflect on the potential health and social consequences resulting from abuse. Reducing alcohol abuse and securing a healthy future for our Air Force requires a cooperative effort from everyone.

Alcohol-related problems, which result from drinking too much, too fast or too often, are among the most significant public health issues in the United States and internationally. According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 18 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder, a medical term describing a range of mild, moderate and severe alcohol problems.

Research shows binge drinking is not uncommon among adults. Nearly one quarter of people age 18 and older report they consumed five or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the past month. Startlingly, seven percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 have reportedly engaged in binge drinking.

Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to multiple health problems. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to cancer, liver disease or heart problems over time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out binge drinking as a risk factor for sexual assault, especially for young women. The risk for rape or sexual assault increases when both the perpetrator and victim have used alcohol. Binge drinking also increases the likelihood of unprotected sex which heightens the risk of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.

In addition to health problems, alcohol abuse carries with it a host of social problems affecting both drinkers and their families. Alcohol can have devastating effects on the family and friends of the abuser. Numerous marriages have been destroyed by alcohol, both emotionally and financially. Children of alcoholics are emotionally fractured by alcoholic parents.

Approximately 20 percent of adults grew up with a family member with an alcohol problem. These adults themselves are at risk for developing substance abuse problems. Emotional issues such as guilt, depression and relationship problems are often found in children of alcoholics. Alcoholics themselves often suffer from psychological problems ranging from depression to schizophrenia according to the University Of West Virginia School Of Public Health.

Thankfully help is available for people who may be struggling with alcohol abuse. The healthcare team in the 90th Medical Group can assist people who have questions about alcoholism and provide treatment for those fighting the disease.

The 90th MDG's behavioral health team provides a wide range of counseling and support options including the Air Force Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program. The objectives of the ADAPT Program are to promote readiness, health and wellness through the prevention and treatment of substance abuse; minimize the negative consequences of substance abuse to the individual, family and organization; provide comprehensive education and treatment to individuals who experience problems attributed to substance abuse; and to return identified substance abusers to unrestricted duty status or assist them in their transition to civilian life.

The chaplains and first sergeants are available for those seeking help with alcohol abuse who do not want to speak to a medical provider.