Sunday, June 19, 2016

Employee Blackouts on the Job: Oh Yeah, They Happen

They are called Aviation Medical Examiners. And they work for the federal government. More precisely, they are internists and addiction medicine physicians who are frequently members of the American Medical Society on Addiction Medicine, and their job is to follow alcoholic airline pilots. I know, you never thought about how many alcoholic airline pilots there might be right, right? There are thousands of them. And they still fly plane's loads of passengers. In 1984, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration was following over 1500 such alcoholic (abstinent, sober alcoholics) pilots. There are alcoholic pilots caught drinking while flying or under other illegal circumstances. Guess what. They must all attend Alcoholics Anonymous after treatment because it works. They have no choice if they want to keep their jobs. And they must be sober two years before they can fly again. Can you think of a better reason to go? All of this is to say, that if recovery from alcoholism did not work, there would be no recovering alcoholic airline pilots still flying. Do they relapse? Yes. The success rate however approaches 90%. I know all of this of course because I interview the had Aviation Medical Examiner. Did you know that there have been recorded incidents of alcoholic airline pilots flying in blackouts? Yep, they did not remember flying from point A to point B. Blackouts (a hallmark sign of possible alcoholism) demonstrates the nervous system’s adaptation and tolerance to alcohol. A blackout is a short-term amnesia state characterized the inability to recall what happened during a period of drinking even though one did not pass out or fall asleep.  It is rare for a non-alcoholic to have a blackout.  Most social drinkers will pass out, fall asleep, or throw up before having a blackout. Someday you may have an employee sitting in front of you who is in a blackout. Scary stuff. DOT Supervisor Training typically omits these fascinating discussions about blackouts, but frankly if the reasonable suspicion training program you face does not address it, you will bewildered about what to do.

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