Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Alcohol abuse and the road to recovery

Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Alcohol abuse and the road to recovery

by Hilary Valdez
Stripes Okinawa

People can use substances, including alcohol, illicit drugs, or legal prescription medication, and not be addicted. However, when a person continues to use drugs or alcohol or prescription medication beyond the time it is prescribed for, it is substance abuse and dependence, or “substance use disorder.” This disorder involves different levels of severity.

Drugs come in many shapes, sizes and some are even socially acceptable. Nicotine, for instance, is the most abused drug in the world. Another, caffeine, is the most commonly used mood-altering drug. Alcohol, though a drug not considered to be one, is at the core of more personal and social problems than any other drug. Over 112 million Americans drink, as many as 14 million Americans have serious alcohol problems, and about 7 million are considered to be alcoholics.

The human brain weighs 3.3 pounds. 1-2 drinks affect reason and caution; 3-4 drinks affect self-control and judgment; 5-6 drinks affect senses, and coordination. A daily consumption of a half-pint of 80-proof liquor can place a person’s health at risk. Alcohol use at any age is damaging, but for those over the age of 60 it can be devastating. Alcoholism and alcohol dependence are a chronic disease in our country.

Where does use end and abuse begin? Take the test:

  • Do you constantly think of drinking?
  • Do you often have hangovers?
  • Do you have blackouts?
  • Have you tried to cut down on your drinking?
  • How often do you drink alcohol?
  • How many drinks a day do you have?
  • Do you sometimes need a drink in the morning to get going?
  • Has anyone told you that you drink too much?
  • What is the best thing drinking has done for you?
  • What is the worst thing that has happened to you as a result of your drinking?
  • How many drinks does it take you to feel high?
  • Have you ever received a DUI?
  • Have you gotten in fights when drinking with your spouse or friends?

Mental health challenges and the abuse of substances, including and in addition to alcohol, can happen to anyone. Many struggle with their mental well-being or are afraid of being seen as weak, so the denial of issues persist. Turning to substances can harm lives in more ways than one and often be deadly.

Traumatic stress

Those who have experienced traumatic events might turn to alcohol as a way to cope after their natural ability to do so and to problem-solve have been overwhelmed.

Military operations place a great strain on military personnel and their families. The strains can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), suicide, other mental health problems, and family issues.

When alcohol or drug use increases, the risk of getting anxiety, bipolar disorder, or depression also increases, leading to a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis.


The road to getting clean, getting healthy, growing mentally and emotionally can be both challenging and painful, but the choice is yours. You need a strong ego to shift gears and admit you need help.

If you compare out and say: “I can’t succeed,” then you won’t succeed. If you compare in and say: “I can succeed,” then you will succeed.

Medicated-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of prescription medication under medical supervision to help people recover from opioid addiction and other substance use disorders. Treatment plans depend on your substance use, but there is no one-size-fits-all regimen in recovery.

Changing your lifestyle is an alternative to pharmacological treatments, seek out counseling or support groups. “Harm reduction” is a strategy to learning to control substance abuse. Cutting on other addictive substances like caffeine and sugar are a start. Increasing vitamin intake may help reduce the consequences of chronic alcohol abuse. Then, add in brain work through meditation, yoga, mindfulness and exercise. Modifying your food, lifestyle and making an effort to cut down on your substance use is beneficial.

People have a natural inclination to stay in their comfort zone. Enabling toxic behaviors is a common symptom among those surrounding a dysfunctional person. We avoid conflict, avoid arguments, avoid dealing with the same issues the person with the substance abuse is also trying to avoid in themselves.  Emotions can get in the way sometimes and if you are emotionally stuck, it’s time to try another way.

Some may choose to do it alone, but you don’t have to. Seek out help from your base chaplain visit Military OneSource, or TRICARE for more information on treatment and other resources for substance abuse.


Hilary Valdez is a retiree living in Japan. He is an experienced Mental Health professional and Resiliency Trainer. Valdez is a former Marine and has worked with the military most of his career and most recently worked at Camp Zama as a Master Resiliency Trainer. Valdez now has a private practice and publishes books on social and psychological issues. His books are available on Amazon and for Kindle. Learn more about Valdez and contact him at or at

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