'WHAT GOES TDY, STAYS TDY' - Spring break has long been known as a peak time for young binge drinkers, but does the Air Force unwittingly have its own form of 'party time'?

  • Published
  • By Bill Morrow
  • AFPC, Chief safety career field management team
"You'll never become old and wise ... if you're never young and crazy."

I read that saying on a T-shirt recently, and it got me to thinking. I wonder if the same person who came up with that bit of philosophy also invented "spring break" and coined the phrase, "What goes TDY, stays TDY."

Because, in the end, all are just a pretext to party hardy or to excuse bad decisions or behavior.

Admittedly, I have a backlog of young and crazy ­-- enough to give an insurance company pause. And I've come to the conclusion that my making it to "old and wise" relied way too much on pure, dumb luck.

Take spring break, for example. I grew up in Florida, and there's many a weekend of booze and debauchery from my youth spent in Daytona Beach that I don't remember. The legal drinking age was 18 back in the day, and alcohol burned those brain cells like the slowest member of a herd of wildebeests being stalked by a pack of lions. It's a good thing the alcohol edited many of my memories from that time of my life, because some of the things I do remember still make me turn crimson.

Why do some people who drink too much forget or experience blackouts? The part of the brain called the hippocampus can stop working when someone over indulges with alcohol. The hippocampus acts like a VCR. It records what a person does and gives the person the ability to play it back again in his or her mind. A drunken person can still walk, talk and make decisions -- they just may not have a memory of it the next day. So you might not only forget who you had sex with the night before, you might not even realize you ran somebody over with your pickup truck.

In the military service we don't have a spring break as such, but there are times when we aren't on our best behavior, such as when TDY (temporary duty). As mentioned earlier, the phrase "What goes TDY, stays TDY" has been used many times as a cover for bad behavior away from home base.

Much of this bad behavior is caused by binge drinking.

Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking alcoholic beverages that brings a person's blood alcohol concentration to .08 grams percent or above, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. This typically happens when men consume five or more drinks and when women consume four or more drinks in two hours or less. (It takes women longer to metabolize alcohol because they tend to have more body fat.)

Being alcohol-impaired affects decision-making and slows reaction time, which in turn, increases the chances of getting hurt or hurting others in everything from car crashes and boating mishaps to violence and suicide.

Adding to this problem is that many young "bingers" aren't experienced drinkers -- not that that is the goal. Nevertheless, inexperienced drinkers typically have a lower tolerance for alcohol and have no clue what their limitations are.

This is where using too much alcohol as a recreational activity can have another ill effect: alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol poisoning is a serious consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time (binge drinking).

Drinking too much too quickly can potentially lead to coma and death. Alcohol depresses the nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing, heartbeat and your gag reflex, which keeps you from choking. Drinking too much alcohol can slow and, in some cases, shut down these functions. Your body temperature also can drop so low it can lead to cardiac arrest. And your blood sugar level can fall enough to cause seizures.

Alcohol poisoning can result in a quiet death that comes with sleep in the believed safety and security of one's own bed in one's own room. ... No screeching tires, no groan of metal on metal, no wide-eyed screaming in fear.

Living in a single room, a drunken Airman could start to choke to death on his own vomit with no hope of rescue.

Or an alcohol poisoning death could just be the soft rustle of blankets and sheets as they're pulled up to keep you warm, tucked under your chin, smelling lightly of fabric softener. You'll need that blankey as your body temperature has already dropped, along with your breathing rate. You don't and won't know what's going on as your brain is on vacation, sedated by the booze. The embrace of a dark room, familiar with the contents of your life -- a laptop, a stereo, the "toys" you've acquired -- all left behind to be boxed up and sent to next of kin.

Alcohol is an equal opportunity killer if abused. From a pop star in a nightclub, to a college student on spring break, to an Airman TDY, no one is immune.

Our own Air Force has seen the loss of Airmen as a result of too much to drink, whether from alcohol poisoning or mishaps. It's also seen its members injured while drunk -- from common trips and falls, to flaming shots that didn't quite make it past the lips and splashed on the face and neck.

The Air Force recommends using the 0-0-1-3 philosophy when drinking. The first "0" stands for zero drinks for those younger than 21. The second "0" represents zero driving under the influence offenses. The "1" stands for one drink per hour to give the liver enough time to process the alcohol. And the "3" symbolizes a maximum of three drinks per night to keep the body's blood alcohol level below .05 percent. But, remember, this is not a guide to safe driving. The best practice is if you drink any alcohol, don't drive.

Once someone finishes an alcoholic drink, it takes a while for it to enter the bloodstream and hit peak blood alcohol level. The liver processes one ounce of alcohol an hour. Ninety percent of alcohol is processed by the liver, and 10 percent comes out through one's breath, urine and sweat as the alcohol is burned up as energy.

Most people pass out at a .21 blood alcohol level. When a person has stopped drinking and goes to sleep, their blood alcohol level continues to rise for one to two hours after they stop drinking.

Alcohol abuse is the third largest public health problem, after heart disease and cancer. It is involved in 50 percent of all fatal traffic mishaps and homicides and 25 percent of all suicides.

That said, I'm not going to try to tell you never to drink. But take it from someone who was once "younger and crazier" and who is now "older and wiser": When you do drink, do so responsibly. Don't get lured into drinking games. Don't drink and drive. And be a good wingman.
Mr. Morrow is the chief of the safety career field management team at Headquarters Air Force Personnel Center, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. Senior Airman Cassandra Locke, 43rd Wing Public Affairs, and Tech. Sgt. Michelle Wilson, 43rd Medical Group, Pope AFB, N.C., contributed to this article.