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Enabling in the Canadian Armed Forces

It's been said that it takes a village to raise a child. In many cases, the same could be said about those addicted to alcohol and/or other drugs. This “village” refers to the “community" of enablers that almost inevitably surrounds each person with an addiction.

"Enabling" is making alcohol or other drug use possible or easier for the user. The user's parents or spouse might deny that a problem exists; friends might rationalize the user's behaviour (e.g., he/she is under a lot of stress right now); co-workers could cover up for the user by fixing mistakes they made as a result of their drug or alcohol use. It could be many things. But what does this mean for the CAF? What form does enabling take in a military context?

Covering up is the most prominent form of enabling in the CAF. Often, CAF members will cover up for their colleagues in a well-intentioned but ill-advised attempt to protect them from discharge or to protect a friendship with the individual. For example, a person may go out at lunch and have two or three beers, but upon their return to work, none of their colleagues or supervisors says anything about it, despite an obvious decline in the member's job performance (studies show that alcohol/drug use can reduce the user's productivity by 25%). Although the co-worker and supervisor may think they're protecting their colleague, they are actually putting them, as well as anybody who works with them (including themselves) in danger. Accidents happen, but they happen much more frequently when drugs or alcohol are involved. In fact, studies show that up to 47% of all people who die in a workplace accident had alcohol in their bloodstreams at the time of the accident.

Clearly, to send a caring message to our members about alcohol and/or other drug use problems, we have to start by changing our attitudes and practices in this regard. Covering up for a colleague's alcohol and/or other drug use, despite good intentions, does not really support the user and can in fact create an unsafe workplace. CAF policies regarding alcohol and/or other drug use exist and it is important for us to know what they are and how we can better support a person who has a problem. The best thing an individual can do for a colleague who may have an alcohol and/or other drug-related problem is to address the issue with a caring attitude and take the necessary steps outlined in the appropriate policies. If holding a supervisory role, knowledge of the policies and the services available is important. If there is concern about a colleague, educating oneself about alcohol and/or other drug use is also necessary. Supervisory training and alcohol and other drugs training is available - check for the course time on your base. The important thing is to act now before it is too late. Let's be a village that nurtures not "enables."

For more information on this and other topics, contact your local Health Promotion Office.

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Stop And Think Before You Drink

Alcohol has featured prominently in almost every culture in the history of humankind. From the time of the ancient Mesopotamians to the present, with very few exceptions, societies have used alcohol in religious ceremonies, in celebrations and as a source of nutrition. Alcohol use remains a significant aspect in many of today's world cultures. We need to know how to enjoy alcohol while keeping the risks associated with its use to a minimum.

To that end, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse has established the following Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines:

  • If you drink, reduce long term health risk by staying within the average level of 0-2 standard drinks per day for women and 0-3 standard drinks per day for men.
  • Women should consume no more than 10 standard drinks in any given week.
  • Men should consume no more than 15 standard drinks in any given week.
  • Occasionally, it is ok to drink up to three standard drinks in one day for a woman and up to four standard drinks for a man. Remember during those times to reduce short term risks: drink with meals, not on an empty stomach; have no more than two drinks in any three-hour period; alternate with caffeine-free non-alcoholic drinks; and, avoid risky situations and activities.

Canada's Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines do not apply to everyone or to every situation. For many, the only safe amount of alcohol is none. People with specific health problems, individuals taking certain types of medication and pregnant women, for example, should not drink. There are also times when people should abstain from drinking because the only safe amount of alcohol is none. For example, when operating any kind of vehicle, tool or machinery, engaging in sports or other potentially dangerous physical activities, working, or when responsible for the care or supervision of others, one should not drink.

We can keep the risks of experiencing the negative consequences of alcohol consumption to a minimum if we follow the Canada Low Risk Drinking Guidelines. It is important to remember however, that these guidelines are "low risk" not "no risk," so remember to STOP AND THINK BEFORE YOU DRINK!

For more information on this and other topics, contact your local Health Promotion Office.

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Alcohol as Stress Management: Finding the Balance

So, you've just got home from a long, stressful day at work and you want to relax. You go to the fridge, take out a nice cold beer and go sit on your patio. You start to relax after your first sip, and by the time the beer's done, you've forgotten all about what happened at work.

Many people use alcohol to relax, but does it actually work? Does alcohol really have some magical soothing property, or do we just imagine the connection? And, if alcohol does relax us, is this an appropriate stress management technique?

The answer to these questions is in no way straightforward. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which basically means that it "slows down" our brain. So, in this sense, alcohol does relax us. However, this effect is only temporary - it wears off once our body has processed the alcohol in our blood (for one standard drink, this can be as little as an hour). Afterwards, we are just as stressed as before. Additionally, even one or two drinks can increase the amount of time required to fall asleep and can reduce the amount of time spent in deep sleep. This means that our body gets less rest, which can result in more stress and being less able to deal with that stress.

More importantly, however, is that alcohol serves to "cover up" problems. If we are stressed due to a chronic problem (e.g., depression, marital difficulties, etc.) alcohol will not reduce our stress over the long term. Once the alcohol has worn off, the problems are still there -we haven't dealt with anything. Furthermore, the more serious the problem, the more alcohol is needed to (temporarily) reduce the stress - this is a slippery slope that can lead to problem drinking.

Having said this, drinking a glass of wine or a pint of beer with dinner to help us "unwind" from the workday is NOT the same thing. As long as we are staying within the Canada's low-risk drinking guidelines (i.e., no more than two standard drinks a day; maximum of ten standard drinks per week for women; and no more than three standard drinks a day; maximum of 15 standard drinks per week for men), using alcohol in this manner is not problematic. However, if alcohol is being used chronically or excessively, or if alcohol is being used as an alternative to dealing with problems in a constructive way (e.g., talking to a professional or otherwise seeking help), this is a problem.

Overall, alcohol is not a very good method of stress management. There are many other, more effective ways of dealing with stress, including exercise, getting more rest, and meditation. For more information on adaptive and effective stress management, consider taking a stress management course, such as the Strengthening the Forces' Stress Take Charge course.

For more information on this and other topics, contact your local Health Promotion Office.

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How to Keep Safe While Drinking

Alcohol is a permanent part of most people’s lives, whether they prefer a nice cold beer on the patio on a hot summer’s day, or they enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. The majority of people drink in moderation but there are some people (especially younger adults) who tend to drink until they get intoxicated. This can be very dangerous, as you are more likely to get hurt or to hurt someone else when you are intoxicated than when you are sober (or have only had one or two drinks).

If you choose to drink here are a few tips to reduce the risk and help keep yourself safe:

  • Always, ALWAYS assign a designated driver. If you can’t find someone in your group willing to drive arrange to take a cab or another form of transportation (e.g., bus etc.) to get home.
  • Space out your drinks. Try to limit yourself to one alcoholic beverage per hour so that you give your body a chance to metabolize the alcohol already in your system before you add more. This will help keep you from getting too drunk too fast, which is very dangerous. Also remember that alcohol will dehydrate, so alternate with water or another non alcoholic beverage. Better yet, set a limit before you start to reduce the risk of overdrinking.
  • Try eating something before you start drinking. Food will slow the absorption of alcohol into the blood stream. On an empty stomach, alcohol is absorbed very rapidly, which can contribute to alcohol poisoning.
  • Avoid doing shots. These contain higher concentrations of alcohol than beer, wine, coolers or cocktails. Also, because they are so small (1 oz.), you will be tempted to drink more of them. This can lead to the ingestion of a lot of alcohol over a very short period of time, which can lead to significant drunkenness, passing out, or alcohol poisoning.
  • Avoid playing sports. Drinking impairs your judgment and reflexes. You will be more likely to injure yourself or others.
  • Alcohol combined with prescription, over the counter medications and other illegal drugs can sometimes be a very dangerous mix. Don’t take certain prescription drugs with alcohol especially antidepressants, sleeping aids, anxiolytics (anxiety-reducing medications like Zoloft), and any narcotics (e.g., Tylenol 3, morphine).
  • Do not mix alcohol with caffeine. Because it is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, caffeine will make you feel more awake and alert, thus tricking you into thinking you are more sober than you actually are. This increases the likelihood that you will drink and drive, mistakenly thinking that you are sober enough to do so. Also, ingesting alcohol (a CNS depressant) and caffeine at the same time is mixing “uppers” and “downers”. Many people think that in doing this, the drugs “cancel each other out”. This is not true – the effects are actually addictive. So, since both can produce heartbeat irregularities, and can cause dehydration, mixing them enhances these effects. Most dangerously, perhaps, is that, since you feel more sober, you are likely to drink more, even though you may already be drunk – alcohol poisoning becomes a real possibility.

Ultimately, the safest thing to do is to not drink at all. Barring that, you should stay within the Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines. This means no more than two standard drinks a day; maximum of 10 standard drinks per week for women; and no more than three standard drinks a day; maximum of 15 standard drinks per week for. Always remember to STOP AND THINK BEFORE YOU DRINK.

For more information on this and other topics, contact your local Health Promotion Office.

Someone is watching you...

Each of us plays a variety of roles in our lives: a parent, caregiver or guardian; an employee, co-worker and/or supervisor; a friend or family member. These roles occur simultaneously and we are never sure who is watching us and when. Our behaviour towards alcohol can be an influencing factor in how likely an individual is to drink alcohol and how often.

As role models, we must be aware of our behaviours; are we modelling consistent and responsible behaviour? Are we avoiding contradictions or are we saying one thing and doing another? Have we considered the consequences of our own alcohol use?

Our children, peers, friends, colleagues will all look to us for information and feedback on how we behave, make difficult decisions or resolve problems when it comes to alcohol use. How aware are you of your behaviours when using alcohol?

1 standard drink = 13.6 grams of alcohol = :

  • 5 oz / 142 mL of wine (12% alcohol) or
  • 1.5 oz / 43 mL of spirits (40% alcohol) or
  • 12 oz / 341 mL of regular strength beer (5% alcohol)

Higher alcohol beers and coolers have more alcohol than one standard drink.

It’s never too late for a role model tune-up:

  • Stick to the Low Risk Drinking Guidelines
    • 0-2 standard drinks per day for women to a maximum of 10 in a week
    • 0-3 standard drinks per day for men to a maximum of 15 in a week
    • Plan for days of non-drinking to avoid dependency
  • Use drinking occasions to educate:
    • Ensure food is available when alcohol is being served
    • Emphasize that low or non-alcoholic options are just as enjoyable as full strength options
    • Be familiar with, and use, standard drink sizes
  • Demonstrate that it is acceptable to enjoy occasions without alcohol, show that abstinence is a valid option when socializing
  • Walk the walk! Never drink and drive, speak up for individuals who choose not to drink at events, offer to be the designated driver, plan events that do not revolve around alcohol.

What kind of impact do you want to have on those who look up to you?

For more information on this and other topics, contact your local Health Promotion Office.