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Preventing alcohol incidents a must for effective mission

First, alcohol targets the brain's center for decision-making processes and muscular coordination in the forebrain. Then it unhinges the mind's normal system of checks and balances, leaving emotions unchecked by affecting the midbrain. Finally, alcohol attacks the brain stem and the body's vital functions. Preventing alcohol incidents is a must for mission effectiveness. (Graphic illustration by Senior Airman Stephen Cadette)

First, alcohol targets the brain's center for decision-making processes and muscular coordination in the forebrain. Then it unhinges the mind's normal system of checks and balances, leaving emotions unchecked by affecting the midbrain. Finally, alcohol attacks the brain stem and the body's vital functions. Preventing alcohol incidents is a must for mission effectiveness. (Graphic illustration by Senior Airman Stephen Cadette)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Air Force tells its Airmen to drink responsibly for their safety, much like when a parent tells a child not to touch the hot stove. When a child does it anyway, the effect is a burn that causes visible damage; but the damage caused by alcohol can be largely unseen.

When alcohol affects an Airman, it doesn't stop at bad breath or an amusing stumble, but is a progressive attack on the brain itself, targeting decision making functions and motor coordination, then emotions and memory, and if continued, finally the body's life support.

Alcohol assaults forebrain

Alcohol starts its effects on the human body by attacking motor coordination, making tasks like driving nearly or truly physically impossible, which is why Airman need to make plans before drinking.

There is no excuse for alcohol related incidents in the Air Force, especially ones that involve vehicles, so Airmen need a plan that involves a designated driver, said Capt. Jared Detter, the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment element chief.

"It's important to plan early because alcohol affects your reliability and judgment," the captain said. "No job in the Air Force wouldn't be compromised by bad reliability and judgment."

Planning before drinking is important, because alcohol makes it difficult to come to the right decision on, say, how to get home from a party, Captain Detter said.

Alcohol knocks out midbrain

After the forebrain, alcohol goes deeper to the midbrain, when a person's ability to make sound decisions is lost, and emotions take control.

"When you lose the ability to realize the consequences of actions, a person's emotions become more prominent in decision making," Captain Detter said. "This is why people are more susceptible to fighting while intoxicated."

At the same time alcohol affects emotions, it attacks a person's memory, which can lead to blackouts.

"A blackout doesn't mean that a person will pass out," Captain Detter said. "It means that the person will not remember the actions that took place during a certain amount of time."

Having a sober wingman can help a person stay safe while drinking.

Alcohol batters brainstem

Once a drinker reaches the blackout stage, the effect of alcohol can become deadly as it affects health conditions like heart rate, body temperature, appetite and consciousness.

"When a person passes out, it's not a laughing matter," Captain Detter said. "The body is being seriously affected by the alcohol consumption which can be fatal."

Nine Airmen died from alcohol related incidents in the summer of 2003 according to the Air Force Safety Institute.  Even though the figures have decreased since then, the Air Force continues to push even harder to ensure its mission is not affected by alcohol.