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NEWS | April 20, 2010

Medical personnel focus on good judgment in regard to alcohol use

By Robert Goetz 502nd Air Base Wing OL-B Public Affairs

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services each year designates April as Alcohol Awareness Month to recognize a problem that affects society at all levels - including institutions such as the military.

Medical personnel at Randolph are calling attention to the ramifications of alcohol use and the need to make good decisions in regard to alcohol consumption.

"We want people to be aware of how their decisions can affect their career, and impact the lives of others," said Tech. Sgt. Brian Hornberger, 359th Medical Operations Squadron Mental Health Flight chief.

For Airmen, embracing the wingman concept can be a life-saver.

"If you are going out to drink, you should have a plan to get home safely before you have your first drink," he said. "You need to know how you'll get home, and have a backup plan in case the initial one falls through. Be the designated driver, or call a cab, your supervisor or your first sergeant to get home safe."

Sergeant Hornberger said the designated driver should refrain from consuming even one alcoholic beverage.

"It only takes one drink to impair your judgment, making it crucial to have a plan set in place before you head out that you follow through with," he said. "Just think about each choice you make in less than a minute and how it could affect you for the rest of your life."

An Airman who doesn't have a designated driver has another alternative. The Airmen Against Drunk Driving program allows an Airman who has been drinking at a night club, party or other function to call the hotline number, 1-877-AADD-123, and request a ride home as far away as 25 miles from Randolph from a pair of AADD volunteers.

The program operates on Friday, Saturday and holiday nights from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. and is available to all active duty, Reservists and Guard members.

Capt. (Dr.) John Waggoner, 359th MDOS clinical psychologist, said Airmen also should be aware of how much they are drinking. Twelve ounces of beer constitute one drink, so don't count that schooner of beer as one drink.

"Just because it's one container doesn't mean it's one drink," he said.

A shot, or 1.5 ounces, of 80-proof whiskey, vodka, gin or other distilled alcoholic beverage and a 5-ounce glass of table wine also count as one drink.

Sergeant Hornberger said party hosts can contribute to a more responsible climate by de-emphasizing the consumption of alcohol. They can offer nonalcoholic drinks and ensure there are activities that are not focused on drinking.

He said Airmen should follow the 0-0-1-3 prevention campaign that is part of the Air Force's Culture of Responsible Choices program. The numbers stand for 0 drinks if you're under 21, 0 driving under the influence incidents, no more than 1 drink per hour and no more than 3 drinks per setting.

"The first two are self-explanatory," Sergeant Hornberger said.

No more than one drink per hour is recommended because that's the average time it takes someone to metabolize a standard-size drink, he said. No more than three drinks per setting is important to deter binge drinking, which can lead to irrational decision making and increased health risks.

"It's not just a saying; it works," Sergeant Hornberger said.

The consequences of alcohol consumption can be severe - from a driving under the influence charge with a hefty fine to a tragic accident - and can lead to serious career repercussions, such as an Article 15, reduction in pay or, depending on the situation, even court-martial.

"The worst-case scenario is being involved in an accident that hurts or kills someone," Sergeant Hornberger said. "How can you put a price on that?"

He said those with problematic drinking behavior should seek help before it gets worse. That help is available at Randolph's Mental Health Flight and at facilities in the community.

Captain Waggoner said some Airmen won't seek help because it will affect their flying or deployment status, but one mistake can be disastrous.

"If you don't get treatment, you can make a big mistake," he said. "The goal with treatment is to get you to do those things again, like flying or deploying. It's a very positive thing."