Airman’ s epiphany: binge drinking is a siren with a deadly agenda
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- *For the protection and privacy of the following Airmen' s identities, their names have been changed and duty titles withheld.
Binge drinking has been a notorious part of mankind' s culture for centuries. Unfortunately, the heavy drinking style has an equally long history of sending people to their graves.
And yet, people continue to abuse that powerful and deadly liquid. Why? According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol makes you feel good. Based on scientific research, this is because alcohol releases the chemical dopamine within the body, which boosts activity in the 'pleasure-seeking' area of the brain. However, just like most things you enjoy, drinking is best done in moderation.
While light drinking can actually be beneficial - health-wise, such as an occasional glass of red wine, and as a social lubricant - over-indulging can lead to a surplus of problems, from mildly embarrassing to seriously dangerous - like death.
Sadly, similar to other regularly repeated warnings, this is one that is often not taken seriously enough until it's experienced. For many, it is a lesson learned too late.
Kylie*, 22, a service member in the United States Air Force, was one of the lucky few who learned her lesson the hard way.
In April 2013, Kylie nearly died from alcohol poisoning one night after drinking over a dozen shots and several beers. She remembers very little of her Saturday night, except that she never intended the night to end in acute intoxication.
Dressed in plain sweats after attending one of her alcohol abuse group counseling sessions, Kylie says that she had plans to go ice skating with a friend the day after the party.
"It was one of my favorite pastimes and I was looking forward to it," she said.
It's been months since the incident and Kylie still doesn't know how things got so out of hand. She recalls being invited by Ume*, her best friend, to hang out with her friends at a party.
"We all knew what was going to happen; we'd get tanked. Some of us would go home with smiles on our faces. Others would run to their personal porcelain god. In the morning though, we'd all wake up with killer headaches and dry mouths," she said.
Kylie shook her head in amused disbelief at the thought of her friends' predictable antics.
"However, I wasn't feeling it this time. My plan was to show up, have a few drinks and bail the first chance I got.
"That night didn't go as I planned," she grimaced.
"Time quickly became insignificant to me while I laughed, joked and drank with my friends," she said. "As I gulped down a beer to wash away the burn after taking a shot, I realized I wasn't feeling weary of the night anymore."
Immersed in an alcohol-induced high, Kylie began to reconsider heading home so soon. With the help of another drink, she quieted her conscience with the promise to stay a few more hours before heading home.
"I convinced myself that I could just push the meeting back a couple hours. It wasn't really a big deal," Kylie explained.
Unfortunately, it was a big deal. By now, Kylie had consumed over five shots, four cups of mixed drinks and a beer. Flooding your system like that may trigger an alcohol overdose, which can cause brain damage ... or be fatal.
"Later that night, I remember being real thirsty and reaching for anything in sight. I downed those drinks like they were water, no longer tasting the bite of alcohol. But I wasn't worried. Although I didn't have the most experience as some people in my group, I wasn't green either. Whether it was kicking back with friends over a couple rounds of beer pong, downing shots along with giggling girlfriends or enjoying a nice book over a plate of hot fries and a glass of beer in a pub all by my lonesome; I'd done them all. So, naturally, I felt like I had this drinking thing in the bag.
"... I was freakin' invincible," said Kylie with a disappointed shake of her head.
Kylie felt so thirsty because alcohol is a diuretic, which causes increased number of trips to the bathroom and blocks your body from absorbing any liquid. With that water gone, your body becomes dehydrated. However, because she did not realize her body' s need for water she tried to appease her thirst with more alcohol.
With the first few sips she started to feel happier, a bit more talkative and more outgoing, but it wasn't long before she had crossed, or wobbled, over that line. Now, she was left with slurred speech, a loss of balance and coordination and impaired judgment.
"I remember how heavy I felt. Everything was difficult to do, things like blinking, talking ... even breathing. I remember this vague feeling of drowning.
"In hindsight, I knew, deep down, that something was wrong. It shouldn't have been so hard to do such simple things. But I ignored it and fought to just stay awake.
"I remember thinking, 'Not yet ... not yet. I want to have more fun.'
"My last memory was the nose of a bottle and a fruit-juice chaser," Kylie said.
It was past midnight and the party was still going. Although this is where Kylie' s memory ends, she would later find out that she continued to drink for another four to five hours.
As the night continued on, Kylie and Ume played drinking games and enjoyed their group's company.
"I remember her eyes. Her pupils were blown. I could tell she was drunk, but so was I; honestly I thought she was fine," said Ume.
For hours the two partied until there were only a few bottles left.
It was almost four in the morning when Ume decided she'd had enough and wanted to go home.
"I felt like at any moment, I'd pass out and wouldn't wake up until noon the next day," she said.
When Ume looked over at her friend, she found Kylie passed out. So, after waking her, and with a lot of persuading, she coaxed Kylie to leave. At first Ume figured everything was all good; she'd take Kylie to her room, because there was no way she could go by herself, and then head home.
When the two left, the moon was still bright overhead. Once Ume got her friend outside though, Kylie promptly threw up.
"At first I comforted her and held her hair back. Lord knows how many times she'd done the same for me. When she was done I forced her to keep moving. She was lucid, or at least knew who I was and that I was taking her home, but she wasn't able to support her body and leaned heavily on me.
"When she threw up again I got worried," said Ume.
After the second heave, Kylie fell unconscious and limp. After a bit of a struggle trying to keep her friend up, Ume prepared to call a friend for help - it was then that she noticed her friend was having trouble breathing.
"I remember this strange feeling in my gut, like when you're swimming and you want to put your feet down on something solid, but the water' s deeper than you think and there's nothing there - I started to panic. I thought about what I knew about alcohol poisoning and the fear for my friend's life was sobering," Ume says, wringing her hands in recollection of that night.
Realizing her friend needed immediate emergency attention, she called 911 in tears.
"I'm not in the habit of letting people see me cry but, when I talked to the lady, I admit I was balling like a baby. In the minutes it took for the emergency responders to get there I felt so alone and helpless ... so scared. I thought I had killed my best friend."
The next half an hour was so traumatic for Ume, she still recalls everything as if it happened yesterday.
"It was still dark out. The moonlight illuminated Kylie' s face eerily making her look pale and dead. My heart was beating so fast. I remember thinking, if it beat any faster it'd burst out my chest and the EMTs [emergency medical technicians] would have two bodies to deal with," said Ume.
Ume remembered seeing the flashing lights of the ambulance before she heard the blaring sirens. When they finally arrived, Ume was so relieved she cried harder.
"When the EMT guys asked me what was wrong, I think I went into shock. That, or the blood pounding in my ear had clogged my brain because, I couldn't seem to understand a word they said. Somehow I got out something about alcohol and that she wasn't breathing.
"Everything' s a haze after that. I watched them get her to breathe, pull out a stretcher and take her away in the ambulance. I watched the fading light on the ambulance until I couldn't see it anymore.
"Before they left, they said she was alive. My legs crumbled beneath me and I held onto the knowledge. I let my shaking hands rest on my knees and took two deep breaths - in through the nose and out through the mouth.
"It was then that I realized what I'd done and, horrified, I prayed that she'd forgive me," she said.
When she was admitted to the hospital, Kylie' s blood alcohol content was .36; meaning .36 percent of her blood was alcohol. At .40, most people die. Luckily she survived.
"It's really scary when you see someone come in and they're not responding to anything," said Capt. Sarabeth Hershey, 35th Surgical Operations Squadron, clinical nurse.
Despite being experienced in dealing with patients involved in alcohol related incidents, Hershey said the possibility of losing someone on the table due to alcohol overdose is a strong fear of hers.
"The reality of binge drinking is all too real," she added. "If you're going to drink, drink in moderation, and remember to take care of your friends too. After all, a binge death is not how any of you want to become famous."
Because of Kylie' s irresponsible and dangerously reckless actions, the military has ordered her to attend alcohol abuse courses with the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment counselors along with other reprimands.
Despite having to face the consequences for her actions that night, Kylie says she's really happy Ume decided to put her life before the consequences Kylie would face. Acknowledging the fact that she might not have woken up that night she hopes to reach out and share her experience with others.
"I'm not trying to persuade people to stop drinking because, let's be honest, that's like expecting a bull not to attack you because you're a vegetarian or expecting the world to be fair because you are; yeah, so not happening," said Kylie.
"This is a warning," she continued with gravity. "Alcohol is a powerful, seductive siren. Like fire, she can either warm you up or snuff the life out of you. Be aware of her potential, respect her, and, just maybe, she'll let you live."