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Binge drinking: The dangerous drug

  • Published
  • By Tony Fontes
  • 90th Medical Operation Squadron, Alcohol and Drug Counselor, ADAPT Program Coordinator
In a conversation with Tech. Sgt. John Thompson, 2nd Medical Operation Squadron, mental health flight superintendent at Air Force Global Strike Command, there is still concern regarding the number of alcohol-related misconducts associated with binge drinking. As an Alcohol and Drug Counselor at F. E. Warren, I share those concerns. At F. E. Warren in 2011, 125 of the 127 referrals to the ADAPT program were a result of binge drinking. The average blood alcohol content for DUIs at F. E. Warren in 2011 was .128%. A concerning fact is that 29 of the airman referred in 2011 required emergency room care or follow-up medical care as a direct result of binge drinking.

Studies have shown binge drinking, not alcoholism, is the biggest problem associated with alcohol consumption, the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation says. When alcohol is involved in family violence, personal assault, motor vehicle accident deaths and injuries - the victims and the people facing blame are usually not alcoholics - they are binge drinkers.

Our largest active duty populations here are Airman between the ages of 18-25 years old and they accounted for 75 percent of the overall referrals for 2011. If you are 25 years or younger and you drink to excess even once a week, your brain may exhibit some deficits as a result of binge drinking. Your ability to pay attention and use your visual working memory could be compromised.

Binge drinking is defined in the Air Force Alcohol Brief Counseling module as drinking five or more standard alcohol drinks for males, and four or more for females in one day. The main concern is most alcohol related incidents here involve more than twice that amount based on DUIs alone. That intense pattern of drinking can cause more damage to your brain than consuming the same amount of alcohol over a longer period. According to researchers, these heavy drinking episodes followed by "morning after" hangovers mimic the pattern usually observed in chronic alcoholics in their cycles of abuse and detoxification. Because some functions of the brain continue to develop and mature until age 25, damage to the brain by binge drinking before age 25 could have long-term effects.

There are some myths about alcohol that are still prevalent in both the civilian and military cultures, which have a big impact on why binge drinking plays a role in alcohol-related incidents. These are the most common misconceptions that people have about drinking and the effects of alcohol, along with the actual facts.

Myth: Beer is less intoxicating than other types of alcoholic beverage.
Fact: One 12-ounce can of beer, one 4-ounce glass of wine or one normal mixed drink or cocktail are all equally intoxicating.

Myth: Switching between beer, wine, and liquor will make you more drunk.
Fact: Mixing types of drinks may make you sicker by upsetting your stomach, but not more intoxicated. Alcohol is alcohol.

Myth: Cold Showers, fresh air or hot coffee help sober a person.
Fact: Only time will remove alcohol from the system. It takes the body approximately one hour to eliminate the alcohol in one drink. An old saying goes, "give a drunk a cup of coffee and all you have is a wide-awake drunk."

Myth: Eating a big meal before you drink will keep you sober.
Fact: Drinking on a full stomach will only delay the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, not prevent it. Eating before you drink is not a defense against getting drunk.

Myth: Everyone reacts to alcohol in the same way.
Fact: Many factors affect a person's reaction to alcohol -- body weight, metabolism, gender, body chemistry and many others.

There are many factors that come into play when we consume alcohol, many of which can affect a person the first time they binge drink. ADAPT continues to offer the Substance Abuse Awareness Seminar twice a month. If you want to know more about how to indentify alcohol problems in yourself, co-workers, or family members, give us a call at 773-2998/3182 and schedule yourself for the class. The life you save could be your own.