Alcohol & Drugs Awareness

Despite increased efforts at public awareness, driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol and drugs remains a national problem.

For many drivers, this is due to a lack of solid understanding of the mental and physical effects of alcohol and drugs; for others, it's an issue of substance abuse problems.

Regardless of personal matters, once a driver gets behind the wheel after drinking or using drugs it becomes a public matter.

Effects of Alcohol & Drugs

Unfortunately, numerous factors go into determining the effects alcohol and/or drug use has on a person. It's impossible to say that every person will react a specific way if he or she consumes this particular amount of alcohol or this particular drug.

While there is a nationwide limit regarding how much alcohol a driver legally can have in his system before it becomes a crime (see below), different people respond to alcohol in different ways. For example, the person's body weight plays a role in how alcohol consumption affects him or her.

Similarly, different drugs—whether illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter medicines—affect people in different ways.

Also, regarding both alcohol and drugs, factors like how much food the person has eaten, how much sleep the person has gotten, and even the person's overall physical and mental health all affect how the person responds to alcohol and drug use.

However, setting those factors aside, there are many common physical and mental effects people can expect from consuming alcohol or drugs, such as:

  • Loss of coordination.
  • Impaired reflexes.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Dizziness or fainting.
  • Drowsiness or sleepiness.
  • Extreme relaxation.
  • Heightened irritation.
  • Memory lapses.
  • Physical tremors.
  • Delusion and hallucinations.
  • Complete blackout.

Given this sample of common side effects, it's no surprise that driving under the influence is extremely dangerous and every state takes it—and the consequences—seriously.

Driving Under the Influence

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 29 people die in drunk driving accidents daily, resulting in 1 death every 45 minutes and an annual cost of more than $44 billion in accident-related expenses.

Of course, alcohol isn't the only culprit. The CDC also reports that both legal and illegal drugs are involved in approximately 16% of car accidents—in 2014 alone, drug impairment played a role in the more than 1.1 million arrests involving impaired driving.

Drinking & Driving

Currently, it's a criminal offense in every state except Utah, to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or exceeding 0.08%.

However, this does not mean is that alcohol won't start affecting you until you reach that percentage. As mentioned above, numerous factors are involved in how alcohol affects every individual. You must never assume you're safe to drive just because you haven't reached the criminal limit.

Drug Use & Driving

Unlike alcohol consumption and blood alcohol concentration limits, there currently is no standardized limit for drug impairment. For now, this might be due to the extreme variety of drugs (illegal, prescription, and over-the-counter drugs) and the wide array of side effects each drug (or combination of drugs) presents.

Of course, having no standardized limit doesn't make it legal to drive while impaired by drugs legal. Refer to our section on Non-Alcohol-Related DUI for more information on drug tests, drug laws, and impaired driving penalties.

Safety & Prevention Tips

Many states have safety and prevention tactics in place. For example, some states utilize DUI checkpoints to stop and remove impaired drivers.

However, you can (and should) practice safe driving on a personal level, too.

Commit to memory these safety and prevention tips to use whenever you or someone you know is planning on driving after consuming alcohol or drugs:

  • Have or be a designated driver.
    • Make sure someone in the group stays sober, or someone will be available to pick you up when you're ready to go home.
    • Let your family or friends know they can call you when they need a ride.
  • Call a taxi or rideshare service.
    • Prepare yourself by programming the names and numbers of several taxi services in your area before you leave home, or catch an Uber or Lyft if those companies service your area.
  • Throw a responsible party.
    • You can help your guests avoid driving impaired by:
      • Making sure everyone who drinks has a designated driver.
      • Serving plenty of food. Drinking on an empty stomach can heighten alcohol side effects; however, avoid too many salty foods, which make people thirstier.
      • Providing non-alcoholic beverages, especially for designated drivers.
      • Stopping alcoholic beverages at a certain time, generally well before the party ends.
      • Providing extra beds or couches for guests who don't have a safe way home.
      • Calling taxis for guests who don't have a ride home.
      • Offering to drive impaired guests home, if you haven't been drinking.
      • Collecting keys at the door. When all else fails, having the guest's keys in your possession can prevent impaired driving.

Substance Abuse Resources

Sometimes, impaired driving goes beyond just having too much to drink at a party or taking a medication you didn't know would make you sleepy; sometimes, impaired drivers have an actual substance abuse problem.

If you think you have an alcohol or drug abuse problem, don't hesitate to seek help.

Some of the most commonly known programs are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), but there are numerous other support groups nationwide. Of course, it's beneficial to seek professional counseling as well, and a therapist can direct you to even more outside resources.

Not sure where to start? Try the behavioral health treatment services locator provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the substance abuse professionals listing provided by the Association for Addiction Professionals.

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