YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — When your leg breaks, you go to the hospital and get it fixed. Same should go for a drinking problem, military officials say.

It’s essentially the same situation — an expert’s diagnosis, a treatment regimen, healing and then recovery — but people don’t always see it that way, said Lt. Amanda Neal.

There’s societal stigma and, in the military, the pervasive notion that getting help might get someone in trouble.

"Let’s just say that view is not uncommon," said Neal, who heads up Yokosuka’s Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program. "But we’re a clinic like any other and we want to be viewed that way."

Apparently, more people are coming around, as Yokosuka has seen a 10 percent jump in the number of people referring themselves for alcohol-related diagnosis and treatment in the last eight months, said Rodney Sturgis, the SARP program director.

He attributes the attitude adjustment to an increase in outreach, such as visits to commands and a more interactive approach in getting out the message.

"Coming in with questions about your drinking is not a bad thing," said Sturgis, who served in the Marines. "It’s a part of taking care of yourself."

He usually gets more requests for outreach after high-profile alcohol-related incidents, Sturgis said. Yokosuka has seen its share of ARIs and campaigns aimed at preventing them. Recently, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Japan rolled out Combined Anti-Violence Reflection Education, or CARE, after it was alleged that a USS Cowpens sailor stabbed a taxi driver to death March 19.

It’s "difficult" to gauge CARE’s effectiveness thus far, since the program is new and aimed at sailors, many of whom are currently deployed, Sturgis said.

As a whole, Navy statistics show alcohol–related incidents and instances of drinking and driving gradually decreasing over time.

In 1996, the Navy reported 6,789 ARIs and 1,773 cases of driving under the influence or driving while impaired; in 2006, there were 5,121 ARIs and 1,098 cases of DUI or DWI. The Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse ties the lower ’06 numbers to responsible-drinking programs such as the "Right Spirit" campaign.

Navy leaders also have tightened up alcohol policies in recent years, with mandatory administrative separations for sailors who get a second DUI or who are involved in another ARI during or after completing SARP treatment, unless a wavier is granted.

However, the Navy’s OPNAVINST 5350.4C goes on to say that referrals — with no alcohol-related misconduct — "should not be viewed as detrimental" in promotions, command screenings or special assignments and calls alcohol abuse a "treatable" condition.

Goal is more soothing SARP spaceThough Yokosuka’s Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program is housed in one of the base’s older buildings, the spaces have been revamped with "patient dignity" in mind, said Lt. Amanda Neal.

More waiting-area privacy, soundproofed rooms, new furniture and art on the walls are some of the improvements SARP hopes will offer a more soothing environment.

"We want this to be an uplifting place that’s nice and comfortable to be in," Neal said. "With a check-in window and someone asking, ‘May I help you?’"

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