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A Glimpse at the Many Sides of Alcohol Consumption

Alexis D. Washington, TRICARE Management Activity

March 31, 2009

A glass of wine with dinner or a champagne toast are nothing out of the ordinary. Social drinking is widely accepted, but also an opportunity for excessive alcohol use. Alcohol use and abuse has long been a concern of the Department of Defense (DoD).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive alcohol use is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the United States each year – linked to approximately 79,000 deaths.

Awareness begins with understanding alcohol content and differences in the types of abuse.

the United States, a standard drink is one that contains 0.6 ounces (13.7 grams or 1.2 tablespoons) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer or wine cooler.
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor.
  • 5 ounces of wine.
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).

Understanding the standard for drinks is an easy way to monitor alcohol consumption to reduce potential risks. In general, it’s not the type of alcoholic drink, rather the amount of alcohol consumed that affects a person.

Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is the most extreme alcohol use problem. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that nearly 17.6 million adults in the United States are alcoholics or have alcohol problems.

The four main symptoms of alcoholism are:

  • Craving – the strong need to drink.
  • Loss of control – not being able to stop drinking after starting.
  • Physical dependence – withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating or shakiness after stopping.
  • Tolerance – the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get “buzzed.”

Alcoholism is a disease and like many others, it lasts a lifetime. The NIAAA reports that the chance for developing alcoholism is influenced both by a person's genes and by his or her lifestyle.

Alcohol abuse is different from alcohol dependence. Abusers may not be addicted to alcohol, but the drinking affects one’s health, interpersonal relationships or ability to work. Abuse includes heavy drinking, binge drinking or both.

The 2005 DoD Survey on Health Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Personnel reports young men in each service branch had significantly higher rates of heavy drinking than their civilian counterparts. Of the young men in all branches of the military, 32.2 percent engaged in heavy drinking, compared with 17.8 percent of civilian men.

On average:

  • Heavy drinking is more than two drinks per day for men or more than one drink per day for women.
  • Binge drinking is five or more drinks during a single occasion for men or four or more drinks during a single occasion for women.

The DoD developed a web site and campaign to raise awareness of the negative effects of binge drinking at http://www.thatguy.com. TRICARE launched an informational web page at http://tricare.mil/alcoholawareness to help create awareness about binge drinking, alcoholism and underage drinking.

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