It’s human nature to want to belong and feel like a member of your community. Likewise, Soldiers may struggle with wanting to “fit in” with other fellow Soldiers.
Traditionally, a culture of drinking has been socially accepted in the military—alcohol is popular, legal, and easily available on post—and this culture can lead Soldiers to think that they must drink to bond and have fun.
Other Soldiers may struggle with social anxiety— symptoms include, difficulty talking to others, fear of judgment, and excessive worrying—which may lead them to drink to “loosen up” and feel comfortable in social settings.
However, drinking alcohol to bond or manage social anxiety is an unhealthy coping strategy.
“I was numbing my feelings (with alcohol),” said Col. Eric Kreitz, G9 Information Warfare Director for Special Forces Command (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “I needed to deal with them instead.”
Kreitz recently shared his story during a webinar for the Army Resilience Directorate, where he discussed his battle with alcohol misuse.
“The more I drank, the more I got a sense of ease and comfort … I'd always have an underlying sense of discomfort as I was growing up and through my adult years … and more and more I used alcohol to deal with it and take care of it,” Kreitz said during the webinar. His drinking eventually evolved to drinking until blacking out, and it was during one of the blackouts that he made a suicide attempt. He was able to get into recovery with the support of his chain of command, and after getting treatment continue his successful Army career. He said during the webinar that he shares his story “in the hopes that it may help somebody out there who may be struggling with the same thing and provide some hope for the future, and that folks can get back on track after an experience such as mine.”
Kreitz learned healthy coping strategies during recovery that gave him tools to deal with fear of failure, anxiety, guilt, shame, and other feelings he struggled with.
DOD’s Own Your Limits site recommends healthy ways to cope and relax without alcohol, including:
· Meditation or breathing exercises to improve your focus and help you calm down. Check with your local R2 Performance Center for a free session on focusing, deliberate breathing, and other mental strength techniques.
· Spending quality time with a good friend or other loved one, in a setting that does not involve alcohol.
· Yoga and other stretching exercises to build strength and help you relax.
Kreitz recommends Soldiers get “involved with other people who struggle with the same things —building strong social networks helps to carry a message of strength for each other outside of drinking establishments.”
“There are a ton of resources, don’t stop until you find what works for you,” Kreitz said. “ASAP, AA might not work the first time, the problem might not be the program but ourselves. Keep looking, keep trying, talk to someone, experts, religious leaders, friends, and Family.”
If you think you or your loved one have a problem with alcohol misuse, call your local ASAP office to get the support you need or contact Military OneSource at 800-342-9647. You can also visit the ARD ASAP website for additional resources or DOD’s Own Your Limits website www.ownyourlimits.org/get-help/.