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Alcohol’s insidious nature: Getting help empowers your career

The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program ensures Airmen are aware of the limitations and consequences of alcohol abuse and its impact on their Air Force career. At each installation, the ADAPT program offers awareness outreach, assessment, and counseling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program ensures Airmen are aware of the limitations and consequences of alcohol abuse and its impact on their Air Force career. At each installation, the ADAPT program offers awareness outreach, assessment, and counseling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- Alcohol abuse has a deceptively gradual onset that can slowly affect family, friends and work. Knowing the signs and getting help early are key to beating alcohol abuse.

“The most difficult thing about alcohol use disorders is how insidious it is,” said Lt. Col. Mikel Merritt, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment branch chief for the Air Force Medical Operations Agency. “There is no distinct point where it transforms from social drinking to something that is problematic.”

Many individuals find it difficult to tell when alcohol takes a central role in their life and becomes alcohol abuse. According to Merritt, this could be partially due to how the brain rewires itself as alcohol use disorders progress.

“Alcohol does a lot to a person’s brain, transforming it so that an individual’s main source of pleasure is alcohol,” said Merritt. “Other things do not provide the individual with ‘neuronal satisfaction’ like alcohol would. As a result, they end up craving it.”

Due to the gradual onset and its ability to change brain function, the Air Force offers the ADAPT program to help Airmen overcome alcohol abuse. The program provides a thorough assessment and identifies effective treatments and tools that have been proven to help people beat an alcohol use disorder.

“At ADAPT, we focus on their thoughts and behaviors that make alcohol use and misuse more likely,” said Merritt. “This is called cognitive behavioral treatment for alcohol use disorder.”

ADAPT works with Airmen to address many of the common challenges they may face as they seek treatment, the potential changes in how to interact with their peer group, and how to overcome those challenges as they seek treatment.

“We work with Airmen on individual techniques as well as their attitudes surrounding alcohol,” said Merritt. “Techniques can be as simple as keeping a soda or glass of water in your hand. This makes it less likely that people will offer them a drink.”

There are signs that can help you tell if you or someone you know might be battling with alcohol abuse. One common sign is when individuals neglect some of their responsibilities due to alcohol use.

“If you’re concerned, start paying attention to how much of a role alcohol plays in your life,” said Merritt. “Do you do things that don’t involve alcohol? Do you find that they are less pleasurable than doing things that do involve alcohol?”

Those who think need help with alcohol abuse are encouraged to reach out to ADAPT services, and should not worry about how using ADAPT services would affect their Air Force career.

Capt. Daniel Gibson, ADAPT program manager at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, works to break down barriers to ADAPT and dispel misconceptions some Airmen have about the program.

“Some Airmen are scared of ADAPT because there is a perception that it is going to ruin their career and they are going to be kicked out,” said Gibson. “We are trying to break down those barriers. The reality is that Airmen who seek help through ADAPT, no matter how severe their situation, find that it actually strengthens and empowers their career.”

Airmen can access the ADAPT program through a number of ways. Most ADAPT clinics are located within the mental health clinic. Airmen can also talk to their primary care manager or any of the other helping agencies on base to get connected with ADAPT.

“Anyone who wears a military uniform bears responsibilities on their shoulders that are very different than anything in civilian life,” said Gibson. “Having a program like ADAPT within the military that understands those unique dynamics to provide treatment, allows for a more meaningful form of support for out Airmen.”

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