Fort Leonard Wood leaders are asking the community here to act responsibly over the Holiday Block Leave period. If alcohol is part of holiday plans, please drink responsibly and have a plan to get home safely. Law enforcement will be increasing focused patrols and checkpoints, looking to stop drunk drivers before they can potential hurt themselves or others.
Fort Leonard Wood leaders are asking the community here to act responsibly over the Holiday Block Leave period. If alcohol is part of holiday plans, please drink responsibly and have a plan to get home safely. Law enforcement will be increasing focused patrols and checkpoints, looking to stop drunk drivers before they can potential hurt themselves or others. (Photo Credit: Photo by Mike Curtis, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Fort Leonard Wood leaders are asking the community here to act responsibly over the Holiday Block Leave period.

“If alcohol is part of your plan for the holidays, please remember to respect your limits,” said Polly Guthrie, Army Substance Abuse Program manager. “We want everyone back safely in January, so if you choose to drink, please do so responsibly.”

To assist the Fort Leonard Wood community in understanding what responsible drinking looks like — and why it’s important to drink responsibly — officials here explained some of the ways alcohol can affect an individual, from health concerns to legal and financial issues.

If being responsible is the best way to consume alcohol, what does irresponsible drinking look like? According to Guy Caley, an ASAP specialist here, heavy drinking in the U.S. is defined as consuming eight or more standard drinks per week for women, and 15 or more per week for men. Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking large amounts for the purpose of becoming heavily intoxicated. More than five drinks for a man or more than four drinks for a woman on a single occasion is considered binge drinking.

Caley added that going from responsible to irresponsible drinking can happen quickly and easily.

“It can be a slippery slope from what you might consider moderate drinking to binge drinking,” he said. “It’s a little too easy to get carried away — especially when you’re out with friends — and before you know it, you’ve entered riskier territory.”

With high-risk behavior comes a greater chance of doing something illegal, Caley added, and that is where law enforcement comes into play.

According to Christian Marsh, a supervisory police officer and station commander at the Directorate of Emergency Services, alcohol is a factor in many of the incidents they respond to.

He said 10 percent of all calls the law enforcement desk here received in fiscal year 2021 involved alcohol; nearly a quarter of domestic violence cases involved alcohol; and about 20 percent of all traffic-related incidents involved alcohol.

“A person’s judgement is one of the first things that is affected by alcohol, increasing risk-taking behavior,” Marsh added. “Any time you have to justify to yourself after drinking that you’re ‘good,’ you’re not.”

Marsh said enforcement is increased across the United States over the holidays. In Missouri, a holiday enforcement campaign starts Friday and runs through New Year’s Day. He said there will be focused patrols and checkpoints in various areas.

According to the Department of Defense website, https://www.ownyourlimits.org, the average cost of a DUI conviction is nearly $8,000.

Alcohol is also involved in most sexual assaults.

“Alcohol itself doesn’t cause sexual assaults, but it can lead to you doing something you can’t take back,” Caley said. “Even if you’re in the company of people you trust, people may overstep boundaries when they are drinking.”

If you are affected by sexual assault, get help 24/7 at the Department of Defense Safe Helpline website, https://safehelpline.org/how-to-get-help, or call 877-995-5247 to talk to someone. All services are anonymous and confidential.

If drinking too much doesn’t land a person in jail or with heavy fines, it’s harming that person’s mental and physical wellbeing, according to Anna Schwartz, Army Wellness Center director. From a physiological perspective, excessive alcohol use over time can cause or contribute to chronic physical and mental health issues including a compromised immune system, depression, malnutrition, obesity, liver damage, cardiovascular disease and multiple types of cancer.

“If you are looking to see improvements in your fitness during workout sessions, alcohol is a diuretic, which can lead to dehydration and an increased heart rate and blood pressure, limiting your capacity to perform the next day,” Schwartz said. “Additionally, not only is alcohol high in empty calories, but it may also limit your body’s ability to build muscle, rather increasing fat storage instead.”

Psychologically, alcohol acts as a depressant, but it can have inconsistent effects, exciting users under some conditions and sedating users under other conditions.

“Sadly, many individuals may use alcohol to decompress and as a means to fall asleep,” Schwartz added. “While it may slow down the central nervous system and initially lead to sedation, it disrupts sleeping patterns, which limits overall sleep quality and duration in REM sleep. Insufficient sleep causes altered hormone regulation, a weakened immune system and a decreased reaction time or ability to make rational decisions. All of which will lead to altered moods, anxiety, increased stress and even weight gain.”

Alcohol is also a major risk factor when it comes to suicide, said Malia Nemetz, an ASAP specialist here and the Installation Suicide Prevention Program manager.

“When you drink, you tend to make snap decisions without much thought,” Nemetz said. “This is because alcohol slows down the part of your brain that controls your thoughts, movement, speech, memory and messages between your brain and body. You are less able to solve problems and may have trouble seeing a positive future for yourself.”

Besides risks to health, freedom and career, drinking too much is also expensive, said Tammy Fink, an accredited financial counselor and personal financial readiness specialist with Army Community Service.

“It’s not just what you spend on drinks and tips on a Friday or Saturday night at the local drinking establishments,” Fink said. “There’s also the taxi home if you don’t have a designated driver, and there’s usually also poor food choices that night and some extra hangover food the next day. Imagine how much money you’d have saved over the years if you redirected your alcohol expenditures to something more productive. You could retire early, or travel the world.”

For more information on alcohol and its potential effects on the body and military readiness, visit https://www.ownyourlimits.org.