We’re just past the one holiday of the year where driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs is a major concern. If you were out late on New Year’s Eve you might have seen police cars patrolling the highways and local streets, and for good reason. Alcohol is the cause of a significant number of accidents.

It’s an all too common experience: you’re drunk and you need a way to get home. You think to yourself, “I’ll be fine,” and you climb behind the wheel of your car. But you’re not consciously aware that alcohol affects your judgment and perception.  There’s a good chance that you’ll misjudge the distance when you’re driving home. Or you’ll miss seeing the person crossing the street in the dark. It can happen so innocently and easily.

The majority of those who drink and drive do not believe their skills are affected until after something happens on the road. It’s then that they realize their coordination was off, their reaction time was slow, or their ability to respond appropriately was skewed. In fact, recognizing that alcohol is a major contributor of car accidents, 90% of all countries around the world have prohibited driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Research shows that drunk drivers have a significantly higher risk of being in a crash than drivers who have not consumed alcohol at all. Furthermore, up to 40% of all adolescent and young adult road traffic deaths are directly linked to alcohol.

As you may already know, alcohol affects the body and brain in certain ways, unlike other drugs. In fact, it is precisely because alcohol affects us that people want to drink it. It makes a person feel more socially open, less awkward, and talkative. It helps a person feel good about who they are and who they’re with. Alcohol can help boost a person’s confidence and help them take greater risks socially. They might say hello to a stranger at a party whereas without the alcohol they might not.

However, this feeling of being able to take greater risks exists on the road too. Someone who is drunk while driving might think that they are driving a lot safer and slower than they actually are. Alcohol reduces a person’s concentration and coordination. This means that they might have trouble shifting gears, reading indicators on the dashboard, and reading what’s present in side and rear view mirrors. Alcohol is a depressant, which means that it tends to slow down brain function. One’s response to situations slows down and a slow response could mean life or death in some situations.

One way law enforcement determines how dangerous it is for a person to drive is by testing their blood alcohol content (BAC). In general, research shows that a person with a BAC of .05 is twice as more likely to be in a car accident. And someone with a BAC of .08 is 7 times more likely of being in an accident. Even if someone appears to okay to drive a car, if they’ve been drinking, there’s a good chance their skills will be impaired.

If you or someone you know is regularly drinking alcohol and driving, contact a mental health professional for support.

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