Excessive Holiday Drinking and Driving Don’t Mix

The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day include the most important entertaining season on many people’s social calendars. While these festivities are a wonderful part of the holiday season, they do bring with them a very serious problem-partygoers who drink too much and then get behind the wheel of a car.

Many people downplay the issue, but statistics prove how serious it is. According to the Community Alcohol Information Program (CAIP), a non-profit agency that provides alcohol education, assessment and evaluation services to persons convicted of alcohol-related offenses in New Hampshire, two million alcohol-impaired driving collisions occur each year in this country. Accidents caused by alcohol-impaired drivers are the most frequently committed violent crimes in America today.

CAIP offers these other sobering statistics about drinking and driving:

  • The average alcohol-impaired driver arrested on the highway has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .20%, more than double the level for presumed intoxication in most states. This level represents 14 drinks of 86-proof liquor (or 14 beers) in a four-hour period for a man weighing 180 lbs.
  • Between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. on weekends, in some parts of the country, 10% of all drivers are legally impaired. Most Americans drink alcohol, and more than 80% admit to driving after drinking.
  • When drinkers are at the presumed level of intoxication, the risk of their causing an accident is six times greater than for non-drinking drivers.

Some people persist in drinking and driving based on myths about how the body reacts to alcohol and its ability to overcome alcohol’s effects. Scientific studies supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) provide important information that belies two commonly held beliefs about drinking and driving:

  • Myth: You can drive as long as you aren’t slurring words or acting erratically. Fact: The skills and coordination needed for driving are compromised long before the obvious signs of intoxication are visible. In addition, the sedative effects of alcohol, combined with late night hours, place you at much greater risk of nodding off or losing attention behind the wheel.
  • Myth: Drink coffee because caffeine will sober you up. Fact: Caffeine may help with drowsiness, but it doesn’t counteract the effects of alcohol on decision-making or coordination. The body needs time to metabolize (break down) alcohol and even more time to return to normal. There are no quick cures.

Alcohol affects the brain and body long after you stop drinking. Any alcohol that remains in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate through the body. That means judgment and coordination can be affected for hours after you’ve taken that last drink. Also keep in mind that alcohol heightens feelings of stress or anxiety, which can lead to violent behavior.

Does this mean you can’t have a few drinks at a holiday party? No, but what it does mean is that you need to be responsible if you do drink. Here are a few tips to remember:

  • Know your limits and never drink more than you can safely handle.
  • Don’t get behind the wheel if you drink. Ask a sober driver to escort you home.
  • Don’t drink if there is someone at the gathering with whom you have a grievance.
  • Offer to be a designated driver for a friend.
  • Call law enforcement if you see someone driving erratically.

Keeping these tips in mind can help avoid tragedy during the holiday season.

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