SEMBACH, Germany -- The Army had the highest rate of alcohol-related trips to the hospital between 2009 and 2018, according to a recently released report on alcohol abuse in the military conducted by the Military Health System.
The Army was followed by the Marine Corps, Navy and then Air Force, according to the Defense Department study, which did not include the Coast Guard.
The good news for those experiencing problems controlling their alcohol intake is that Soldiers can now seek treatment for alcohol abuse without fear of career consequence thanks to an Army directive signed in March 2019 by then Secretary Of The Army Mark Esper.
Army Directive 2019-12 “allows Soldiers who meet specific criteria to receive care without notification to their commanders, as long as the criteria for non-notification are met and maintained throughout voluntary care,” said Dr. Cheryl Owen, the regional manager for Substance Use Disorders Clinical Care at Regional Health Command Europe.
“This report from MHS provides an ‘opportunity’ to re-educate the public and commanders about new treatment options that don’t involve command notification and puts substance abuse in line with other behavioral health treatments,” said Owen.
Historically, the Army required command-involvement in treatment for any Soldier who had concerns about his or her drinking and a record of that referral and care was annotated in the Drug and Alcohol Management Information System database which is used for background checks.
“The new policy for alcohol use disorders allows Soldiers who are not a risk to self, others, mission, national security, who are not abusing illicit drugs and who have not had a formal incident to self-refer and receive help related to their drinking without command notification,” said Owen.
Owen added that as with any behavioral health condition, Soldiers have a choice whether to get help or not unless certain risk thresholds are crossed or if they’ve already gotten in trouble.
“Service members now have the same option when it comes to alcohol use,” she said. “If they are proactive in addressing concerns, Soldiers will continue to serve the military mission as needed and without consequence for getting support related to their drinking.”
The Army teaches low risk drinking, better known as the 0-1-2-3 rules. Zero alcohol if driving, no more than one drink per hour, no more than two drinks a day over seven days (a maximum of 14 drinks per week for a man or 10 drinks per week for women), and no more than three drinks at a given time.
“The truth is that many Soldiers don’t follow those rules which results in risky drinking patterns and occasions,” Owen said. “A subset of those folks won’t be able to or can’t follow those rules even if they try. They are the ones who, despite their best intentions, just can’t drink responsibly and the best choice for them is to not drink.”
Owen says that for those who might be struggling with alcohol abuse, there are a variety of resources available to help.
Installation Management Command’s Army Substance Abuse Program is responsible for prevention training and goes out to units, upon invitation by commanders, to educate service members. U.S. Army Medical Command’s Substance Use Disorders Clinical Care program assesses and treats service members who have concerns about their own drinking or whose command has concerns about their drinking. SUDCC providers offer consultation to commanders regularly regrading ways to address risk in their units and how to use the SUDCC program effectively to help service members get care prior to alcohol-related events such as hospital visits, auto accidents, or legal problems.
Owen added that Soldiers in Europe, like everywhere else in the Army, can always go to their local or nearest behavioral health clinic and request services related to alcohol use.
“There are Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the local community and now, more than ever, online,” said Owen. “Your local ASAP or SUDCC should be able to provide you a schedule of local meetings happening in-person. Likewise, with a Google search, it is relatively easy to find online meeting support.”
For Central Europe Meetings in English, go to https://alcoholics-anonymous.eu/.
“The bottom line is don’t wait for something that’s irreversible to happen or for your drinking to cost you a relationship, your career, or your life,” said Owen. “Get some help as soon as you are aware there’s an issue.”