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Many Drive Drunk Without Knowing

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Category: Alcohol, Health, Prevention, Recovery

Some alcohol drinkers may think they are able to estimate their own degree of impairment before driving. New research, however, shows that isn't the case — and the results of making such an error could be disastrous.

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A man at the wheel of a car puts his hand to his forehead while another holds a BAC measuring device; presumably the first man has driven drunk.

New Research: Drinkers Can’t Tell BAC

A new study has shown that people who consume alcohol may be far worse at predicting their own blood alcohol concentration (BAC), and as a result their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, than many may think; everyone who drinks, therefore, might need to re-examine the concept of drunk driving.

The research, published December 7 in the Harm Reduction Journal, found that at one point in the study, 53% of participants (who had been provided with alcohol and told to judge their own inebriation) were past the legal limit even when they thought they were safe to drive.

This information may be especially pertinent given the nature of the holiday season; oftentimes, winter festivities give an occasion to imbibe heavily and many may choose to drive home after drinking, believing they are outside the realm of a DUI when they are not.

Police officers will be pulling over drivers who appear intoxicated this December just as they always do, but the worse danger may not lie in legal consequences; instead, lives may tragically be lost due to the overconfidence and impairment that can accompany any use of alcohol.

Drunk Driving Claims Young Lives

Statistics show that drunk driving is something to be very aware of and to guard against, perhaps even more so than usual. According to recent reporting by the LA Times, there were, “38,860 deaths on U.S. roadways last year, the most since 2007, even though pandemic precautions had dramatically reduced driving.”

In seeking to explain the increase, the LA Times shared a conclusion that matches the available data: that “the pandemic has made U.S. drivers more reckless — more likely to speed, drink or use drugs and leave their seat belts unbuckled.”

One unfortunate reality of reckless driving generally and drunk driving specifically is that, though drivers of any age may commit the crime, young Americans are most likely to pay the price.

Vehicle-related accidents are now the primary killer of those between the ages of 5 and 29; much of that population is either unable or unwilling to drink alcohol in the first place.

Apps Can Help, But Better To Abstain

Many may not know just how impaired they are after as few as 1 or 2 drinks; according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drinkers can be affected even at a BAC of 0.02. Effects at this stage of inebriation, according to the NHTSA, can include “Decline in visual functions” and “decline in ability to perform two tasks at the same time.”

Those who choose to drink alcohol may benefit from using smartphone apps that can help prevent drunk driving. Rideshare apps can certainly go a long way toward preventing traffic fatalities and DUI; a recent study helped quantify the impact of such apps on car accidents.

In addition to ridesharing apps, sensors within smartphones may be able to determine whether or not an individual is too impaired to drive by tracking a person’s movements. According to StudyFinds, an organization that summarizes and presents scientific research and covered a study on the subject, “Roughly 90 percent of the time, study authors were able to successfully guess if participants were over the legal drinking limit to drive based solely on gait changes.”

It should be noted that this study was done in a controlled setting with the aid of experts and technology; at-home “sobriety tests” based on walking a straight line will not provide the same degree of certainty.

In any event, it is certainly safer — both from a personal health and a public health perspective — to abstain from alcohol use entirely than to attempt to mitigate the fallout of using the substance after the fact.

Rehabs and support groups stay open over the holiday season, and help is available if you or someone you love is struggling with problematic alcohol use.

To pre-empt disaster, protect young lives, and do right by yourself and your loved one, you can take action now toward more healthy choices (even in advance of the new year.)

You can get questions about addiction, treatment, and rehab answered. The road to recovery starts with a single step — and you can take that step immediately by contacting a treatment provider.