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Defense Department Fights Binge Drinking Through 'That Guy’'Campaign

Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2008 –

Now in its third year, a campaign by the Military Health Systems and the Tricare military health plan continues the Defense Department’s effort to reduce excessive and binge drinking among 18- to 24-year-olds serving in the armed forces.

The ‘That Guy’ campaign has two goals: to reduce alcohol abuse and to raise awareness of the negative short-term social consequences of excessive drinking. It was developed in response to findings of the Defense Department’s survey of health-related behaviors, Chuck Watkins, “That Guy” campaign program manager, said in a “Dot Mil Docs” radio program on BlogTalkRadio.com Sept. 16.

The “That Guy” campaign tells cautionary tales of excessive drinking and its consequences in a way to which young servicemembers can relate, Watkins explained.

Watkins, who has been involved for the past three years on the harm-reduction campaign, said its style is unlike that of other health-promotion campaigns. Its use of edgy humor and peer-to-peer mentoring captures the essence of who “That Guy” is and ways to prevent abusing alcohol and becoming the subject of ridicule, he said.

“Most recently, the survey detected there has been an uptick in binge drinking among junior enlisted of about 2 percent, and now about 56 percent of junior enlisted said they have engaged in binge drinking at least once in the past month,” Watkins said.

“‘That Guy’ is anyone who, after drinking an excessive amount of alcohol, loses their self control,” he explained. “And, … this frequently has humiliating or embarrassing results, and some of us may be older [than] 18 to 24 and have been ‘That Guy’ perhaps in our distant past.”

DoD surveys have found that while men are more likely to engage in binge drinking, it can apply to anyone who, because of excessive drinking, “behaves in a manner where your friends just don’t want to be around you or copy you,” Watkins said.

Early data shows that attitudes are changing, he noted.

“That early data does indicate that attitudes … toward excessive drinking have begun to shift in a positive direction,” Watkins said.

Offering support, particularly for servicemembers who recently have returned from combat, is part of educating them on the negative health consequences of excessive drinking, he said. “Deployment is definitely a risk factor for disorders such as anxiety and binge drinking, and each of the four armed services have several programs that address these programs both through prevention and treatment,” he added.

Small and large military installations around the world actively participate in the “That Guy” program. “We have nearly 150 installations that are involved that range from the giant installations to the smallest,” Watkins said.

The campaign is based on social marketing research concerning changing behaviors, Watkins emphasized, and is not an abstinence campaign. He added that officials want people to think before they take their next drink and to avoid becoming “That Guy.”

“The aim is to raise awareness, and ultimately change drinking behavior among the targeted audience,” he said. “An example is while most people agree that drinking and driving is unacceptable, maybe they don’t feel that same way about getting just totally wasted, as long as they don’t harm anyone other than themselves. But what we are trying to do is point that out and promote peer disapproval about out-of-control behavior.”

(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)

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