Think Before You Drink
Even though many of us are aware of the higher rates of alcohol-related traffic fatalities on New Year’s Eve, myths about drinking and driving persist. These myths are related to how quickly alcohol affects the body and how long these effects can last.
Richard Taite is founder and CEO of Cliffside Malibu, offering evidence-based, individualized addiction treatment based on the Stages of Change model. He is also co-author of the book Ending Addiction for Good.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
Scientific studies supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) on how alcohol affects our brains and bodies provide important information that challenges these commonly-held, but incorrect beliefs.
Many New Year’s revelers get into trouble because they generally do not recognize that critical driving-related skills and decision-making abilities are diminished long before the obvious physical signs of intoxication.
Initially, alcohol acts as a stimulant and you may temporarily feel upbeat and excited. Inhibitions and judgment are affected first. Gradually fine motor skills and reaction time begin to suffer and behavior becomes poorly controlled and sometimes aggressive, compromising driving abilities even further. Continued drinking can lead to the slurred speech and loss of coordination and balance that we typically associate with being “drunk.”
At higher levels, alcohol acts as a depressant, which causes people to become sleepy and sometimes pass out. Large quantities of alcohol, particularly if consumed rapidly, can produce a blackout, an interval of time for which the intoxicated person cannot recall key details of events, or even entire events. Research has shown that blackouts are common among social drinkers of college age.
During a night of drinking, it is easy to misjudge alcohol’s lasting effects. Many revelers believe that they can drive safely once they have stopped drinking for the night and have had a strong cup of coffee. The truth is that alcohol continues to affect the brain and body long after the last drink has been consumed. Even after someone stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate through the body. As a result, judgment and coordination can be impaired for hours after drinking.
Driving home late at night is especially hazardous because natural drowsiness is magnified by the depressant action of alcohol. Driving abilities may even be impaired the next day when any alcohol remains in the system.
No one intends to harm anyone when they get behind the wheel on New Year’s Eve. Yet traffic fatalities persist from people with good intentions, but who choose to think they can drink then drive. There is no way to speed up the brain’s recovery from alcohol and no way to make good decisions when drinking too much, too fast. This is a fact.
So this New Year’s Eve, do not underestimate the effects of alcohol. Moreover, as you think about the consequences of an arrest or a potentially fatal traffic crash, make alternative plans to get home safely if you do plan to drink even a little. Pace yourself, set a specific limit and stick to that limit. If you have trouble keeping to your limit consider counseling for the New Year. The idea of welcoming the New Year completely sober is a good choice also.
Have a safe and Happy New Year.