Alcoholism is an extremely problematic disorder that affects nearly 15 million Americans. Sadly, this includes members of each of the branches of the United States Military. Though it may come as a surprise to some, alcoholism is a major problem in every branch of the military. It can not only have negative effects on the health and well-being of service members but also on the overall effectiveness of the entire military. But how did the U.S. Military get this way, and what can be done to fix it?
What is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism, which is also called alcohol use disorder, is a medical condition where an individual is unable to control or stop their consumption of alcohol – even when their alcohol consumption is met with serious or potentially serious consequences. In general, alcoholism will affect every person differently. Part of this is dependent on how severe one’s alcoholism is. Some may have slight control over their alcohol consumption while others with alcohol use disorder may have no control at all.
Health Risks with Alcoholism
Although some of the effects of consuming alcohol can be desirable for users, it often comes with a variety of negative side effects. Many of these side effects will affect an individual’s health and well-being.
The side effects of alcoholism on one’s health can include:
- A weakened immune system
- Digestive problems
- Learning problems
- Memory problems
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Cancer (of the breast, mouth, colon, liver, and esophagus)
Other risks and negative impacts alcoholism can have on a person’s life often include trouble maintaining relationships, issues at work, and financial problems.
Alcohol and the Brain
Alcohol and alcoholism can have numerous negative effects on the body. It can also have a significant impact on the brain. Alcohol is an addictive substance. When consumed, it triggers the brain’s reward system to release endorphins and dopamine, making a person feel pleasure. However, when alcohol is consumed consistently over prolonged periods of time, the brain is forced to adapt, making it harder to release pleasing endorphins and dopamine without alcohol. This change in the brain creates a person’s dependence on alcohol, which can be difficult to overcome without professional help.
How to Effectively Treat Alcoholism
Although there are a number of ways that alcoholism can be treated, the most effective way to treat any individual’s alcoholism is through the use of professional treatment at an established rehab facility. The staff at these facilities can provide a treatment plan unique to an individual’s needs. Typically, treatment for alcoholism will begin with a detox, where a person removes all traces of alcohol from their body in order to become sober. After this, they will begin one or more kinds of therapy to address the root cause and mental aspect of alcohol addiction. Rehab facilities can also provide a person with support well beyond their initial treatment.
How Prevalent is Alcoholism in the Military?
Unfortunately, consistent, heavy alcohol use and alcoholism are growing problems in the United States Military. According to research published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 15 to 20% of military members engage in frequent binge drinking of alcohol. While this does not necessarily mean that 15 to 20% of military members are living with alcoholism, it is a dangerous statistic nonetheless. Frequent binge drinking is usually a precursor to alcoholism.
Why is Alcoholism So Common in the Military?
The prevalence of alcoholism in the United States Military can be attributed to a variety of factors. However, it primarily boils down to two main contributors:
Military Drinking Culture
For better or worse, alcohol is a prominent part of military culture, especially in the United States. The consumption of alcohol is tied to ideals of status and power. This makes it desirable for military members to drink, especially if they are given the opportunity to drink alongside their superiors.
However, this is not the only circumstance where drinking is encouraged. Consuming alcohol is also seen as part of a “work hard, play hard” mentality. Military members often feel like they earn their right to binge drink. While this mindset is not entirely problematic, it can contribute to an individual’s likelihood of developing alcoholism.
Issues with Mental Health
Another notable factor for why alcoholism is so common in the U.S. Military is the mental health issues most military members face. Many military members face consistent stressors. Whether it is a superior, their specific duty, keeping up with their quarters, or combat itself, members of the military face a variety of stressors every day. Stressors like these can inevitably take a toll on a person, causing them to have poor mental health overall. Many develop mental health disorders like depression, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mental health issues are among the most significant factors in whether or not a person will develop alcoholism. Because of this, military members who have poor mental health are more likely to develop alcoholism.
How the Military Can Combat Alcoholism
Whether it is a single person or an entire organization, combating alcoholism is never easy. However, there are some steps the United States Military may be able to take to help make alcoholism less common among their ranks. The first is to change some aspects of their culture, specifically their views on consuming alcohol. The military must take a more responsible position on the use of alcohol and encourage safe use, not alcohol abuse.
Another solution is to expand mental health resources for military members. By offering more options for military members to receive mental health care, the military can minimize the impact stressors have on their troops, making them happier, healthier, and less likely to develop alcoholism.
Looking for Local Treatment for Alcoholism?
If you or a loved one are currently living with alcoholism, help is available in your area! At Asheville Recovery Center, our team of addiction specialists offer proven treatments and effective forms of therapy. Our goal is to help people from all walks of life, including members of the U.S. Military, to overcome their alcoholism and live a happy, healthy, and sober life. Contact us today to learn more!