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Managing Your Drinking Habits and Building Positive Coping Skills

Why People Drink

Many of us drink around family and friends to socialize, relax, or to celebrate special occasions. With family gatherings and festive parties, the holiday season can be a time for catching up and celebration, but it can also be an especially stressful and demanding time for Sailors, Marines, and their families. Separation from loved ones during deployment, financial struggles, or relationship problems can cause stress, especially during the holiday season. These challenges can contribute to feelings of sadness or loneliness that may seem unmanageable. You may use alcohol to cope with difficulties in your life. Even though you feel better immediately after drinking, using alcohol to navigate these difficulties can lead to more problems.

You may feel like you become more relaxed with each drink you take, but being drunk can influence your mood and behavior and lead to your becoming more depressed or aggressive if you are already feeling down or angry.1,2 It can also influence your ability to think things through before you act and your ability to cope with challenges.1,2 This can result in your taking risks you normally would not such as driving while drunk. Unhealthy drinking and the continued use of alcohol as a way to cope with your challenges can contribute to problems with your job and family life and impact your psychological and emotional well-being. You may find yourself needing to drink more alcohol to feel the same effect and continue to drink despite the problems it causes you.3

What is Unhealthy Drinking?

Understanding how much you drink and why you drink can be helpful steps in recognizing whether you are engaging in unhealthy drinking and whether you are using alcohol as a way to cope. Unhealthy drinking behaviors include the following single-day and weekly limits:

  • Heavy or “at-risk” drinking4
    • o On average, consuming more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week for men
    • o On average, consuming more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks per week for women
  • Binge drinking4
    • Consuming five or more drinks in one sitting for men
    • Consuming four or more drinks in one sitting for women

Consider whether your drinking behavior is unhealthy based on your habits, how much you’re drinking, and the reasons you are drinking. Note that the “heavy” or “at risk” drinking definitions were developed for healthy adults and individual risks may vary. One may be engaging in “at-risk” drinking even if consuming less than the amounts mentioned above.

If you are concerned about your drinking habits, go to Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and your health and assess your drinking pattern as well as find resources to help you cut down or quit. You can learn more about what counts as a “drink” or how to reduce alcohol-related risks or seek professional assistance from Navy-approved sources of help listed at the end of this article.

Positive Coping Skills

Building and using positive coping skills to help navigate difficult situations can enhance your psychological and emotional well-being and strengthen your resilience and ability to deal with these situations without turning to alcohol. Developing positive coping skills can help you perform at your best at all times, maintain mission readiness, and thrive both in your home and in your community. Consider using the following positive coping skills:

  • Identify sources of stress. Identifying stressors can help you manage your stress and eliminate unnecessary stress.
    • Recognize what situations or problems trigger your stress response.
    • Make a list of what you think may be causing stress.
    • Plan ahead to avoid unnecessary stress (e.g. plan/manage finances for the holidays to avoid financial stress, allow extra time for commuting/travel).
    • Seek assistance from others to develop an approach to address your stress. Contact Military OneSource, your local Fleet and Family Support Center, or local Military and Family Life Consultant (MFLC) for assistance.
  • Develop a strong social support network. Creating a support system of peers, friends, and family that you can depend on and trust when times are difficult can help you maintain connectedness with others. Your support network can help you navigate situations, encourage positive coping behaviors, and hold you accountable for addressing your problems in a healthy way. Participating in enjoyable activities with others can also help to relieve stress. 
  • Participate or volunteer in your community. Helping others not only can help you feel good but also builds your confidence and can help motivate you to identify solutions to difficult situations. Being of service to others can help you be open to receiving help when you need it. Find ways to participate and volunteer alongside your colleagues, your family, and your community.
  • Engage in healthy living. Taking care of your health can help your body and mind better navigate stress and repair itself. 
    • Eat healthfully.
    • Exercise regularly.
    • Limit alcohol consumption.
    • Avoid tobacco.

For more information visit:

If you or someone you know needs help:

  • Talk to your Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor (DAPA) or Navy Drug and Alcohol Counselor
  • Speak to your Commanding Officer, XO, OIC, CMDCM/COB or Chaplain
  • Contact your local Fleet and Family Support Counselor or reach out to DoD Medical Personnel

References

1. Brady J. The Association Between Alcohol Misuse and Suicidal Behaviour. Alcohol Alcohol. 2006;41(5):473 478.

2. Hufford M. Alcohol and Suicide Behavior. Clin Psychol Rev. 2001;21(5):797-811.

3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol and health: Alcohol use disorders. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders.

4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking Levels Defined. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking.