Alcohol abuse awareness campaign relevant

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One of many Army Substance Abuse Program goals is raising awareness of the negative impact excessive drinking can have on the community while also fostering a culture that promotes responsible alcohol use and making healthy, low-risk life choices.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and there is great concern about public health at this time not only because of the spread of COVID-19 but also the potential for individuals to engage in high-risk behaviors while worried about their welfare and isolated at home.

National leaders enacted the AAM campaign in 1987, viewing it as an important way to support U.S. communities that were becoming increasingly aware of the drawbacks of a disease called “alcoholism.” The observance would serve as the catalyst for the dissemination of information about problem drinking and the resources available to “beat the bottle.”

We find ourselves in challenging times once again. Over the last few months, the eyes of the world have been focused on COVID-19. Who is sick, who has died and how to protect individuals in our community are the topics of daily conversation throughout households, offices, social media circles and, of course, the media.

It is understandable why many feel stressed and anxious. As the number of positive cases grow, so does the uncertainty and panic some may feel. It is completely natural to have these feelings when faced with the unknown, however, reaching for a glass of alcohol can enhance anxiety and make it more likely for problematic patterns of alcohol use to start or intensify.

Another issue is the frustrations of this situation. We don’t understand the full capabilities of the virus. We get contradictory information on television and online. Many are losing financial security because of furloughs and firings. Parents are juggling telework with teaching children who are home from school.Isolation and social distancing are not in our nature.

In these circumstances, many turn to drinking and justify it with dismissive statements like “it helps me relax.”In moderation, this could certainly be true, but it becomes more problematic when the excuse sounds something akin to “it’s the only way I can cope.” It means the individual has crossed the line from relaxing to the point of dependency, relying on alcohol and perceiving its use as a necessity.

As of March 31, alcohol sales in Virginia were up by 59 percent in comparison to last year and it is reasonably assumed that consumption is occurring at home and not in social settings with restrictions on large gatherings in place and the state government’s “stay at home” order in effect.

Consumers also should take note of an additional health risk. Alcohol increases the potential for complications from COVID-19 exposure. Studies conducted by the National Institute of Health have shown how excessive drinking can weaken the immune system and make an individual more susceptible to pneumonia, acute respiratory stress syndromes, and sepsis. Therefore, practicing low-risk and responsible drinking is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. In times like these, the body needs to function at its highest levels in order to fight off the symptoms and decrease the potential harm.

There are far healthier coping strategies that can be leveraged during this crisis such as staying remotely connected with friends, family, community groups, mentors and others. Don’t dwell on the topics that are causing stress. Discuss recent movies or books that were read. Share memories from the last visit. Talk about planned vacations or fun plans when the stay-at-home restrictions are lifted.

Connecting with others takes the pressure off and helps people through challenging times. Make it a priority, and you’ll realize you’re not alone.

If you need additional support, use community resources like the Employee Assistance Program (email susan.p.loden.civ@mil.mil); Behavioral Health/Substance Use Disorder Clinical Care at 804-734-9143 or 734-9601; Military One-source non-medical counseling at 1-800-342-9647; the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255; or the Family Life Chaplain at 804-734-0165.

Without a doubt, these are worrisome times, but as Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark Esper has often said, “We will get through this together, and we will emerge stronger and more resilient than ever before.”