What we believe about 'responsible drinking'

  • Published
  • By Base leadership
  • 52nd Fighter Wing
Focus on responsible drinking ... teach it ... don't just talk about it ... don't just say "drink responsibly" ... what does that mean anyways? Teach people what it means.

This was one Airman's answer to a survey question about drinking and driving. When asked what could be done to prevent driving under the influence, this Airman focused on responsible drinking, but he wanted clear guidance on what that means. We suspect many Airmen are thinking the same thing when their commander or supervisor begins to talk about "responsible drinking."

So we've written down what "responsible drinking" means to us in three simple equations. In a recent commander's call, we presented these on a single slide:

What we believe ...
Driving = Zero
Drinking = No Keys
Responsible Drinking = 5(4)

Before we discuss each of the items, it's important to know where they came from. In our wing, we tried to determine the root causes of DUI events during the last 6 months. We thought it would be a good idea to ask the offenders what happened and why. We found there were two basic causes of DUIs.

First, people were drinking so much they became irrational -- they made decisions they would not have made otherwise. When they drank five, 10 or 15 beverages, their "plans" for getting home fell apart, and they made the disastrous choice to drive. Second, people underestimated their intoxication level -- they thought they were OK to drive when they weren't. We thought it was very significant that these two root causes covered all of our DUI events.

We decided anything we said about drinking responsibly should address these root causes, and that's where we began.

The first thing we wrote down was "Driving = Zero." When we drive, the only way we can be sure we are not impaired by alcohol is to be sober. Any alcohol dulls our reflexes, and that's especially true when we are already fatigued - who isn't these days? - dehydrated, or drinking on an empty stomach. Why drive impaired if we don't have to?

Additionally, alcohol affects everyone differently, and just one drink could put us over a legal threshold for impairment. For example, in Germany, if you are under 21 and you have any alcohol in your system, you will be fined 125 Euro and receive two German points. For all ages, if your blood alcohol content is 0.032 or higher and you are in an accident with injuries, you can lose your license and receive up to five years jail time. Take it from us, 0.032 is not much, and it's definitely not worth the risk.

Since we're talking about legal repercussions for drinking and driving, we should make it clear these "beliefs" about responsible drinking are not directive in nature -- they are guidance. We are not ordering Airmen to follow them. We are not going to give Letters of Reprimand for violating this guidance. We will hold our Airmen accountable for the law, but we are going to use these three beliefs to change our culture. We want to convince you to help us.

Speaking of culture, you can't go to the movies or watch TV these days without seeing shows about vampires and werewolves, and that's a good place to start with "Drinking = No Keys." If you're a werewolf, and you know there will be a full moon tonight, you're probably worried about hurting yourself or someone else. What are you going to do? You will probably do something similar to the characters on these shows -- you'll restrain yourself with chains, lock yourself in the basement, give the keys to a friend, and ask them to come let you out in the morning. In other words, you're going to develop a plan that will work even when you are not acting like yourself.

That's what we mean with "Drinking = No Keys." Drinking alcohol causes us to act differently than we would otherwise. Therefore, our plan for getting home must account for this. One way to have an ironclad plan for not drinking and driving is to give up physical access to our car keys. We give them away before we have the first drink, and we don't worry we will make a dumb decision to drive after drinking too much.

What is "too much?" We answer that with our third belief: "Responsible Drinking = 5(4)." A good guideline for moderate drinking is five drinks per night for males and four for females. Now we understand that the definition of a single drink can vary widely, and people of different sizes/weights metabolize alcohol differently. The science behind these numbers, however, is solid. For most of us, staying at or below this guideline means our BAC stays beneath the level that triggers negative side-effects. In other words, we get all of the upside of alcohol -- good taste, relaxed feelings, and some possible health benefits -- with almost no downside.

We don't want our Airmen to experience the downside of alcohol, because we've seen it. We see the great things our people do and the incredible futures they have. Unfortunately, as leaders, we also see how some of them throw away that future under alcohol's influence. They hurt their loved ones, sometimes physically. They develop an addiction to alcohol they can't escape, no matter how hard they try. They experience a deep depression that ruins their outlook. And sometimes, they get behind the wheel of a car and kill themselves or someone else.

It's because we care that we are trying to change our culture. We believe we can drink responsibly by following these guidelines. Perhaps you have better ideas -- we want to hear them.

When you see us at the club, you're going to see us modeling "responsible drinking." We want you to join us. Together, we can influence those around us for good. Cultures do change over time when people challenge old ways of thinking. Behold the power of us!