It’s common for service members and veterans to feel stress as a result of deployment or other life transitions. Often this stress can be managed safely through coping skills  such as breathing techniques, exercise and peer support -- but in some instances it can trigger other serious challenges, including alcohol abuse and dependence. If you or someone you know is using alcohol in a way that may cause either physical or psychological harm, or is experiencing a strong urge to drink alcohol, it is important to reach out for care and support. Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence (also known as alcoholism) are serious matters that can pose risks to your physical and psychological health, including relationships with loved ones and creating financial strain. Fortunately, there are a variety of military and civilian resources that can help you access treatment and care to overcome unhealthy alcohol use as well as help you to maintain responsible drinking habits.
When is One Drink, One Too Many? For tips on responsible alcohol consumption, check out the DCoE Blog post, “When is One Drink, One Too Many? ”. In this post, a DCoE subject matter expert on alcohol and substance abuse/misuse defines responsible drinking habits, as well as at-risk behaviors.
For some individuals, it’s difficult to tell when drinking has crossed the line from moderate use to heavy or “at risk” consumption, but recognizing the problem is the first step to overcoming it. Heavy or “at risk” drinking is defined as excess daily consumption (more than 4 drinks per day for men or more than 3 drinks per day for women), or excess total consumption (more than 14 drinks per week for men or more than 7 drinks per week for women), or both.1 About one in four adults who drink heavily are also experiencing an alcohol use disorder such as alcohol abuse or dependence.1 People who abuse alcohol are not physically dependent on alcohol, but their excessive alcohol consumption negatively impacts their lives including personal relationships and responsibilities at home, work and school.2
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Rethinking Drinking online self-assessment , some of the warning signs and indicators for an alcohol use disorder include the following:3
For more information, read the articles “The Role of Family and Loved Ones in Substance Misuse ” and “How Veterans Can Address Substance Misuse .”
Alcohol dependence, a medical diagnosis also known as alcoholism, is characterized by a physical dependence on alcohol. Individuals experiencing alcohol dependence often display the following symptoms:2
Alcoholism can pose serious risks to your overall health. It can lead to serious medical problems including harm to the liver and pancreas, heart disease, damage to the brain, increased cancer risk and a weakened immune system.4 Alcoholism may also cause individuals to neglect responsibilities at home, work or school, and it has also been associated with psychological health concerns, including depression, loss of self-esteem and chronic feelings of guilt.5
To better understand your consumption of alcohol, visit Military Pathways  to take a free and anonymous self-assessment. The tool does not provide a diagnosis, but it can help you determine if you would benefit from further evaluation by a health care professional.
If you have concerns about your alcohol use, visit your health provider for more information on responsible alcohol use or alcohol abuse support programs. Reaching out for treatment, care or support can help you maintain peak performance both physically and psychologically, and can improve relationships with friends, family and fellow warriors. There are many kinds of help, offered by both military and civilian organizations that can support your recovery and help you to lead a healthier life, including the resources below.
1 “Moderate and Binge Drinking ,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Last accessed Aug. 28, 2012.
2 “Alcohol Use Disorders ,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Last accessed Aug. 28, 2012.
3 “What are symptoms of an alcohol use disorder? ” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Last accessed Aug. 28, 2012.
4 “Beyond Hangovers: Understanding alcohol’s impact on your health ,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Last accessed Aug. 28, 2012.
5 “Quick Facts About Alcohol Abuse ,” Military OneSource. Last accessed Aug. 28, 2012.