Binge drinking and a culture of intoxication

SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich. -- The military is only a microcosm of civilian society and binge drinking has become a phenomenon in American culture as evidenced by the popularity of binge drinking parties such as Lake St. Clair's Jobbie Nooner, spring break celebrations and "fill in the blank" gone wild reality shows. 

This binge-drinking phenomenon is quite different from social alcohol consumption.  The idea appears to be not only to consume alcohol but to abuse it to the point of total intoxication, with bragging rights going to the person or group who pushes it to the furthest limit. Unfortunately, that person or group usually does so at the expense of self-control and respect for others. Vulgar language, rude behavior, misdemeanors and violent crimes often result when alcohol is abused in this manner.

The morning after can bring more than just an unwelcomed hangover. Disciplinary actions ranging from counseling and reduction of rank, all the way to discharge and imprisonment can await service members who participate in binge drinking activities and then behave irresponsibly whether on or off duty, on base or not.

While alcohol consumption had been on the decline in recent years in the U.S., the latest surveys indicate a resurgence of alcohol use in the military. 

A 2008 study by the DoD Institute of Medicine, the last year that data was available, reported,  "About 20 percent of active-duty service members reported they engaged in heavy (five or more drinks a day) as a regular practice." You read that right, one in five Airmen drink five or more drinks a day on regular basis. Perhaps even more disturbing was that the same report states "binge drinking increased from 35 percent in 1998 to 47 percent in 2008."

This phenomenon is not limited to our junior ranks but covers the full spectrum of ranks. It is, however, junior enlisted Airmen and females in particular, who often suffer the most severe consequences of this inappropriate behavior.

Those of us in leadership positions must do a better job of preparing our Airmen for the risk associated with binge drinking and public intoxication. Far too often it is those in leadership positions who, by participating in the binge drinking themselves, create a peer pressure environment that encourages this culture to flourish.

Junior Airmen look to leadership to set the standards for what is acceptable behavior. We must set a better example if we are to change this culture and avoid the effects of alcohol abuse. Our core values, good discipline and order suffer irreparable damage when we engage in this type of behavior. Public confidence and even our relationships with foreign nations where Airmen are stationed could also be at risk.

The Air Force is trying to counter a society that celebrates binge drinking with programs to educate our members but it's in a tough fight against money-driven media that glamorizes dinking excesses as good-natured fun. 

Beer and spirit marketeers have increased their TV ad spending, topping $1 billion dollars in 2012 . During every major sporting event viewers are bombarded with messages that associate drinking with having a good time.

What they fail to show is the catastrophic consequences of taking it too far. 

What we as service members must first do is recognize our responsibility to know our legal and personal limits and to protect ourselves and Wingmen from the consequences of binge drinking. Drink socially if you choose but know that binge drink is playing with fire. Sooner or later, you will be burned.

Before taking that first drink ask yourself, "Am I willing to sacrifice my career and liberty for one evening of "fun?" That is often the price to pay for the behavior that comes with binge drinking drinking to the point of total intoxication.

If you need help with or want to discuss a suspected alcohol problem, help is available through the 127th Wing Psychological Health Director, Ms Marsha Candela, at (586)239-2510.