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Road to recovery

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Sahara L. Fales
  • Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs
With sweaty palms and a racing heart, he walked into the room, where his first sergeant waited for him. He centered himself in front of the desk, took a deep breath and gained his composure, but nothing could've prepared him for the bad news he was about to receive.

"He slid some papers across the desk and asked me to sign them," said Airman 1st Class Carlos D. Muñoz, 91st Missile Maintenance Squadron facilities maintenance technician. "It was a restraining order from my wife."

Along with the newly served documents, which required him to move out of his house into the dorms on base, Muñoz found out his wife wanted a divorce and was gaining custody of their 11-month-old son, Danny.

"I had no home, no wife, no kid. That's when the heavy drinking really began," Muñoz said.

One drink became two drinks, which then became three. It wasn't long before he was consuming almost a bottle of wine per night.

Muñoz soon found himself wrapped up in a binge drinking cycle that was quickly spiraling out of control. It came as no surprise he would be caught up in his third alcohol-related incident this year alone.

"I stopped drinking at four that morning, and then I went to work," said Muñoz. "I literally had one foot out of the door when my supervisor called me over."

The smell of alcohol radiating from his uniform was the tell-tale sign that gave him away.

"When they breathalyzed me, it had been hours since I stopped drinking," said Muñoz. "I still blew over the legal drinking limit."

Being drunk on duty, Muñoz received an Article 15 and received a pay cut along with a reduction in rank from Senior Airman to Airman First Class.

"That's when I realized I really had a problem," Muñoz said.

Muñoz first attended the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program in mid-April to try to better himself.

"The primary objectives of the ADAPT Program are to promote readiness, health, and wellness through the prevention and treatment of substance misuse and abuse," said Capt. Lisa Valentine, 5th Medical Operations Squadron ADAPT program manager.

Patients receive two sessions that focus on alcohol education, values clarification, and development of a change plan.

"The ADAPT classes were educational. I really learned a lot," said Muñoz. "Most of the information I already knew, but when it was put into facts and figures, it brought a new light to it."

It was during his third visit in October that Muñoz was diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder, a label that also identified him as unfit to take care of his son.

"To meet that criterion, an individual needs to have a problematic pattern of alcohol use within the same 12 month period," said Valentine. "Examples of recurrent problems include recurrent alcohol use resulting in failure to fulfill obligations at work, school, or home."

Individuals who receive an alcohol-use disorder diagnosis are entered into longer term treatment and attend a combination of group and individual counseling, depending on their needs, Valentine said.

"It's nice talking to other people who are going through something similar," Muñoz said.

There is a stigma related to seeking mental health and ADAPT treatment that unfortunately can prevent people from getting the help they need.

"The reality is that the majority of Airmen who come to Mental Health/ADAPT do not experience long-term negative impact on their careers," said Valentine. "Overall, I have had positive experiences here when it comes to unit support for their members who seek treatment. It is better to ask for help then to wait for something bad to happen."

"As Airmen, we all have the briefings that inform us about alcoholism, and we've been educated about the repercussions that follow," said Muñoz. "You never expect to become a statistic."

Over the past few months, Muñoz has worked endlessly to change his habits and refocus his priorities. With the knowledge and help that he has gained through ADAPT and his perseverance, he feels more in control of his addiction and manages stress better.

"The most important thing I learned from this whole situation is that alcohol doesn't solve problems," Muñoz said.

Now, his number one goal is to focus on being the best father he can be for his son.

"I don't get to see him often, so when I do I want to be the role model he looks up to and wants to spend time with."