April is National Alcohol Abuse Awareness Month, providing a nationwide opportunity to increase awareness of the dangers and understanding of alcohol addiction, its causes, and effective treatment and recovery options.
This year's theme, "Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow," is aimed at educating people about the treatment and prevention of alcohol addiction.
Additionally, this month presents the Army with a reason to increase awareness about the Substance Use Disorder Clinical Care (SUDCC) and its most important recent change in prevention efforts -- the voluntary self-referral track.
On March 25, Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper signed a directive allowing Soldiers to voluntarily self-refer themselves to treatment to receive alcohol-related behavioral health care without being enrolled mandatorily in substance abuse treatment, which could negatively impact their career.
"We're hoping that the voluntary care track will allow people to self-refer in the early stages of their condition before they have alcohol-related incidents," said Therese Boucher, Fort Meade SUDCC clinical director.
The voluntary care track encourages personal responsibility and emphasizes improved Soldier readiness by decreasing deployment ineligibility and unnecessary enrollment in the mandatory track.
"We wanted to remove, as much as possible, any barriers to self-referral so that Soldiers self-refer in the early stages so that they can experience confidential care," Boucher said.
Alcohol addiction is a chronic, progressive illness that if left untreated increases the likelihood of incidents such as domestic violence, sexual assault and suicide.
"The longer people engage in hazardous drinking, the more likely they are to have an incident that is going to result in a command-directed referral," Boucher said. "Treatment efforts are the most effective in the early stages of any disease, whether it's heart disease or cancer. Substance use disorders are no different."
As part of the Behavioral Health System, SUDCC provides clinical care to assess, treat, rehabilitate and provide post-treatment follow-up to service members.
Many Soldiers are eligible for voluntary care but are currently not receiving treatment. Boucher noted that only alcohol-related substance use disorders without occupational, readiness or safety impairment are eligible for voluntary care.
However, voluntary care does not prevent placement into mandatory care.
Under the voluntary care track, command disclosure is managed like behavioral health and medical conditions.
Even if a Soldier self-refers for voluntary care, the Soldier will be enrolled in mandatory substance abuse treatment, with notification to the Soldier's command, when certain conditions are present. Examples include a military or civilian law enforcement investigation or apprehension; treatment other than standard outpatient care is needed; or the Soldier presents a clear risk to safety, security, occupational functioning or mission.
"Early intervention means better prognosis," Boucher said. "Alcohol use disorder is like any other substance abuse disorder. It is a medical condition. That's why we're in the medical service line and that's why early intervention presents the best opportunity for recovery."
Active-duty service members from all branches who are looking to self-enroll should visit the Kimbrough Behavioral Health Clinic at 2481 Llewellyn Ave. or call 301-677-8895.
At this time, Kimbrough SUDCC is serving active-duty service members only.
Military family members and Department of the Army civilians seeking substance use services for themselves or family members can seek assistance through the Fort Meade Army Substance Abuse Program's Employee Assistance Program at 301-677-7981.