Drinking and Driving - A Scary Proposition

By Angie Carter, CRADC, SAP

Drinking and Driving: This time of year (October) brings out ghosts, goblins and other frightening things that go bump in the night - but the kind of scare that we don’t need is the one that comes with drinking and driving. Holidays, sporting events and house parties increase the likelihood of this happening. Many individuals celebrate a variety of occasions with alcohol and often the results can be disastrous, especially when choosing to drive.

Drinking and Driving

Drinking and Driving - A Scary Proposition

It is the unintended consequences that make this issue so problematic. It’s not the same as when someone deliberately sets out to harm others with their behavior such as premeditated assault or robbing someone. Nobody wakes up in the morning and puts a plan in place to destroy their own life or create havoc in lives of others because they are going to a party and then choose to drive home. Regardless of intentions, the fact remains, that the responsibility of choosing to drink and drive squarely rests on the shoulders of the individual taking that risk.

Over the last several years I have heard about individuals devising and implementing plans to drink and not drive. One of those being the 'designated driver plan' which works well as long as the designated driver doesn’t drink! Or the "I’ll call a cab" plan or the "I’ll just stay the night" plan and even the "I’ll just sleep it off in my car" plan. When I was actively drinking I used all of these plans. How in the world did I wind up with three DWI’s??

Some of my plans seemed pretty solid in theory, so how come they didn’t work? There was one factor that I did not to take into consideration with each of these plans which was the assumption that the brain I used to make those plans would be the same brain I would use to implement those plans after consuming the alcohol. I failed to see that no matter how upstanding and solid my intentions were to not drink and drive, the part of my brain that made those decisions became anesthetized after consuming a certain amount of alcohol and therefore rendered my decision making skills to practically nil.

The prefrontal cortex, where inhibitions and executive functioning take place is one of the first places alcohol effects in the brain. Alcohol is a depressant and an anesthetizer – which means it decreases, lowers, weakens, slows down or numbs out various parts of the brain. The ability to stick to a well, thought out plan can be dramatically diminished after drinking alcohol.

There have been a number of strategies created and implemented in order to deter the individual who wishes to consume alcohol and not drive. In 1984 the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed which stated that in all 50 states the minimum age for purchasing and publicly possessing alcohol would be 21 years, inpart to reduce the number of injuries, accidents and deaths of young drivers as a result of drinking and driving. Legislation has repeatedly lower the legal limits of the blood alcohol content, implemented tougher sanctions on impaired drivers, especially repeat offenders and orchestrated national advocacy campaigns to deter drinking and driving.

In a different strategy to tackle this problem I have heard of attempts to hold bar owners responsible for serving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person who had later got into an car accident. Another idea, thought out by a group of bar owners, was to create a means of transportation for patrons to get home safely after drinking in their establishments (ie. a van system). Unfortunately many individuals would not utilize it, even if they had set out to at the beginning of the evening. It is safe to say that this issue is one where many people are concerned and are trying to come up with a solution.

In some cases there are certain individuals who should consider giving up alcohol all together - they have experienced too many problems with their drinking and driving. I am an instructor for DWI classes for adults and adolescent who have received one or more DWI’s and sometimes I ask members of the class what would have to happen in order for you to say, "I’m done drinking, I quit" Although the responses from the adolescents were surprising, they were indeed honest. Statements like "I would probably have to loose an arm or a leg", or "Someone would probably have to die" and "Nothing, because I don’t want to quit" allowed me to conclude that their relationship with alcohol was already quite significant. Individuals in the adult class where more hesitant to offer up a response, basically wanting to avoid that line of questioning altogether.

The second question I frequently ask is "If you were a legislator what would you do to deter individuals from drinking and driving?" A number of individuals stated we should have tougher consequences and penalties, even tougher than we currently have. A kind of "throw the book at them" viewpoint. Ironically, this usually came from the very ones who were the most angry about being in the class and paying all those fees and court costs for drinking and driving. Interesting.

About the Author

Angie Carter, CRADC, SAP is a certified reciprocal alcohol and drug counselor and DOT certified Substance Abuse Professional. She is in private practice at Carter Counseling & Consulting Services. Angie sees local clients in office and is also available for telephone coaching and/or consultation. Click here to contact Angie with appointment requests, questions, or feedback.

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