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News > Andersen utilizes Social Norms to battle alcohol abuse
Andersen utilizes Social Norms to battle alcohol abuse

Posted 11/13/2012   Updated 11/13/2012 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Marianique Santos
36th Wing Public Affairs

11/13/2012 - ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam  -- Team Andersen was selected to participate in an Air Force-wide study called the Social Norms project here in October. All permanent party, active-duty Airmen ages 17 to 24 were required by the 36th Wing to participate in an educational session on personal drinking habits and perceptions of drinking among peers.

The Social Norms project is an Air Force-wide initiative designed to revamp the way to deter substance abuse. The goals are to enhance resiliency and improve mission readiness by preventing alcohol misuse. This is accomplished through using anonymous survey information provided by servicemembers to understand the culture with regards to alcohol at Andersen.

In the past, substance abuse was largely discouraged through scare tactics. From parking a wrecked car by the main gate, to publicizing offender's units or running ads depicting driving under the influence, agencies used fear in order to get the point across.

"Although such tactics may serve a purpose, they are not as effective as social norming," said Capt. David Shwalb, Andersen Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program manager. "Social norming is about changing the drinking culture on base by correcting Airmen's misconceptions about what is normal."

The Social Norms project is now included in the 36th Wing commander interest items. Every base has a committee of representatives from various agencies -Family Advocacy, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office, Chapel, Equal Opportunity and more - called the Integrated Delivery System, who meet to discuss Airmen's needs.

For younger Airmen overseas, transitioning from adolescence into adulthood isn't a simple process. Being thousands of miles away from home while also learning a new job and adjusting to the operations tempo of the active-duty Air Force, the transition can be even trickier.

"Younger individuals are considered to be at a higher risk for alcohol abuse due in part because drinking is new to them," said Captain Shwalb. "Controlling alcohol consumption and understanding your tolerance is a learning process. Most people, if they choose to drink, will learn how to drink responsibly."

"A lot of Airmen believe that the norm is to drink excessively," he continued. "This isn't to say that people don't drink or that some people don't drink excessively, but realistically, based on many years of research, most people drink responsibly, if they choose to drink at all."

Captain Shwalb said that misconceptions occur largely because people assume the most memorable and salient behaviors, such as ideas like "that one group of guys" or "that crazy dorm." These misconceptions can influence people's behaviors as they adjust their own drinking to what they think is normal. Challenging and correcting these misconceptions can help individuals shift their behaviors towards actual norms.

Alcohol abuse and dependency are different problems, and the diagnostic criteria for these can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. On the other hand, the causes of alcohol abuse and dependency are harder to pinpoint.

"People drink for many different reasons: for fun, to lower social inhibitions, cultural norms or customs, self-medication, peer pressure and more," said Captain Shwalb. "However, certain characteristics may be linked to higher risk for alcohol dependency and abuse tendencies, such as family history of substance abuse, depression and other mental health problems."

Along with ADAPT's efforts, Airmen can actively promote the prevention of alcohol dependency for both themselves and their peers by approaching it on a proactive and interpersonal level.

"The most important thing Airmen can do to actively promote ADAPT and the prevention of alcohol misuse is to drink responsibly, encourage their peers to do the same and not be afraid to be themselves," said Captain Shwalb. "If you don't want to drink a lot, then don't. People don't need excessive amounts of alcohol to enjoy life. "

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