Alcohol Abuse 101 lays out drinking facts

24 Feb 2011 | Lance Cpl. Victor Barrera

Before any 96-or 72-hour leave period, Marines are usually gathered up and given their safety brief. They are usually told: don’t drink and drive, don’t drink if you’re underage, always have a buddy and don’t do anything that would embarrass the Marine Corps.

On many occasions however, Marines, many of which have received the speech more than they can count on their toes and fingers, just zone out and wait to be released. It is not until they are standing before their commanding officer do they see the severity of ignoring the warnings.

Now, the Alcohol Abuse 101 class is available to service members who seek alcohol related help, whether to help fight an addiction, prevent one from happening or gaining knowledge that can help prevent other service members from walking down the wrong path.

The course is designed to be easy to understand and doesn’t just cram information down service member’s throats. David Wilder, the instructor and public health educator with Health Promotions Branch, Marine and Family Services Division, Marine Corps Community Services, has a different method of disseminating the information.

“I don’t have all the answers to every question out there, while I do have more knowledge about the subject than most, I try and make it a group discussion so everyone can participate,” said Wilder. “The classroom is shaped so that we can see whoever’s talking and doesn’t have that formal classroom feel to it.”

Wilder also added that with each meeting that is held he tries to bring something new. New facts are always being discovered about alcohol and he wants the Marines that attend his course to be well informed about the dangers of alcohol.

One subject that was focused on was the role alcohol plays on the serotonin levels in the body and the affect it has over time as a person continues to abuse alcohol over time.  There are several chemical changes in the brain that occur with alcohol abuse, and among them the reduction of the serotonin level is very significant and contributes to numerous other challenges in life such as stress and anger management, relationship problems, suicidal tendencies, and more.

“Serotonin levels are dramatically increased with certain activities we enjoy or as a result of the ‘natural high’ you feel after accomplishing something you are proud of.  It is what gives us that natural ‘feel good’ sensation of euphoria,” said Wilder. “Alcohol draws out some of the stored serotonin, giving a very temporary boost in blood serotonin levels, but constant abuse of alcohol will eventually deplete the serotonin you have stored in your body.

 Once someone’s blood alcohol content is past .06 the body stops producing serotonin for about five days, and it takes about nine days for the normal production rate to be reached. Wilder stated that it is easy to see how one who gets his or her BAC over .06 on a weekly basis will soon be in a serotonin depleted state. 

The depletion of serotonin in the body can cause a chemically induced depression which will stay with the service member until their serotonin levels rise back to normal, with constant alcohol abuse however those levels may never return to normal.

This can have a profound effect on a service members emotions, and can also play a role in family matters. A recent study by the Center for Disease Control has shown that in roughly 96 to 98 percent of suicides, serotonin was found to be considerably lower if not nonexistent than an average person.

While Wilder spoke, the participants paid attention and occasionally asked questions or added a piece of information they thought was relevant to the topic. Wilder in turn listened attentively and helped them better understand the subject.

Wilder also talked about who is at greater risk of becoming addicted, how to prevent addiction, and how the different sexes, ages and weights factor in.

As the class drew to an end, each participant received a certificate of completion and walked away with knowledge about alcohol abuse and information that they could pass on to their fellow Marines to help curb alcohol abuse in the military.

“This class was informative and was kept interesting, we liked the information that was given on serotonin,” said some of the course attendees.

One attendee said he would recommend it to his Marines, many of which were facing alcohol abuse issues and he would make it required unit training to prevent future incidents.

“Awareness is my goal, I want to change the lives and bring insight so that service members can make the right decisions,” said Wilder. “Too much alcohol can and will have a negative impact on someone’s life, I can be retired sitting at home or fishing, but this is something that I want to do to help Marines.”

For more information service members can call 451-2865 or visit Building 302.