Alcohol

Disclaimer!

I am not an attorney, an aviation medical examiner, an employee of any airline, a federal regulator, or a judge.  While I am familiar with the rules about drugs and alcohol that apply to aviators, not everything can be covered here with either the best depth or appropriate skill to tell you exactly what to do.  A federal rule or interpretation could change without my immediate knowledge.  If you are asking yourself any of the questions below, consider this information just the very beginning of exploring what you need to know and what you need to do.

FAQs

I’m a pilot. I think I drink too much. What should I do?

If I have alcoholism, why isn’t going to AA the best first step?

I’m a pilot. I got arrested for an alcohol traffic offense, but the charge was dropped.  All good?

I’m a pilot. I had a DUI conviction.  What am I supposed to do?  What about other convictions like a DWAI?

I’m a pilot. I think I drink too much. What should I do?

If you are a commercial pilot, you already have a lot of resources even if you don’t know about them.  You could

  • talk to your union representative
  • talk to your Chief Pilot
  • if your company has a HIMS program, talk to your company’s HIMS Chairman or Co-Chairman
  • talk to your EAP
  • if a peer pilot has ever talked about being in the HIMS program, or has told you that she or he used to drink a lot but quit, then talk to that person
  • talk to your AME
  • see an aviation psychiatrist or aviation psychologist for a consultation

Pilots often sit with drinking problems for years.  There are a lot of reasons that pilots may wait to get help.  Alcoholism at first hides in plain sight for almost everybody with the problem, and pilots are no exception.   You may fear that getting help for an alcohol problem, or even just asking questions, will end your career.  You worry about gossip and and how rumors will begin to follow you.  So, you wait and, then, something happens (see below…) and things get a lot harder.  HIMS allows for early intervention and can preserve your career and reputation.  Don’t wait to get help.

Although I don’t really advise this as your very first step, other things that pilots might do are

  • go to an AA meeting and see what it’s all about
  • go see your primary care doctor* (*unless you are suffering a serious medical problem needing prompt attention, then this IS your first step)

Why not see your primary care doctor as your first step?

Alcoholism in a primary care setting is easy to overlook and may not be diagnosed until at a moderate to severe stage. Early-stage alcoholism gets missed.  Severe stage alcoholism can kill you.

If you visit a doctor or any other health care professional, a diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder (alcoholism, alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcohol use disorder) means that YOU MUST REPLY YES TO QUESTION 18.N ON FORM 8500-8.

If I have alcoholism, why isn’t going to AA the best first step?

Alcoholics Anonymous is a terrific program and has helped millions of people with alcoholism find sobriety.  It works — no program works for every person but AA works for many.  The problem with going to AA is that getting help anonymously in no way removes your responsibility to report a significant health problem that could impact aviation safety.

I’m a pilot.  I got arrested for an alcohol traffic offense, but the charge was dropped.  All good?

If you get arrested for a DUI or any other traffic offense, as a commercial aviator you should alert somebody on the resource list above as soon as possible .  Do this before you fly again.  There is no way around having your case scrutinized and your arrest will be discovered eventually when your medical certificate is renewed. Protect your passengers, health, and career by following the procedures and getting started on any requirements, whatever they might be, as soon as you can.

Rule 14 CFR 61.15 does NOT require that you get convicted of a DUI or DWAI to meet the mandatory reporting requirement.

If you suffer any of these actions below, then you must notify the Securities and Investigation Division at OKC within sixty days of the offense:

  • failing any chemical test in a DUI/DWAI stop
  • refusing any chemical test in a DUI/DWAI stop
  • an administrative license revocation (in other words, if your license is revoked, for any reason, during a DUI/DWAI stop )
  • any other civil revocation of your license
  • an express-consent violation

I’m a pilot.   I had a DUI conviction.  What am I supposed to do?  What about other convictions like a DWAI?

If I cannot stress this enough, your first step should be to contact somebody to get expert advice about what to do. This could be your union, an EAP, a lawyer, or the Chief Pilot’s office.  Hopefully,you have already done this.

The legal definition of your conviction is irrelevant.  Whether it is a DUI, DWAI, or other status designated by your state, if you had a conviction of any sort (including a plea agreement) for an alcohol or drug-related traffic violation, then you must report the conviction.

Rule 14 CFR 61.15 requires that you notify Securities and Investigation at OKC within sixty days of a conviction or any administrative action. The rule says that you need to report EITHER an administrative action (failing a chemical test, being arrested) OR a conviction.

As it usually takes more than sixty days from the traffic stop to finalize a conviction, if you wait until the final legal outcome of your case you are probably going to be in violation of the sixty-day rule.

If there is more than sixty days between the administrative action and the conviction and you aren’t sure what to do, you should first report the administrative action and later report the conviction.