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What You Need To Know About Driving Under the Influence Of Alcohol

Published on: April 14, 2017

Written by: Janet Russell.

Governments of the world continue to implement measures to make their respective countries as safe and healthy as possible. In the U.S., the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is always on the lookout to prevent the spread of illegal substances, most especially to the younger generation. This includes enforcing laws on driving under the influence (DUI), whether of alcohol or of drugs.

To maintain order in any society, people should be vigilant and do their part in preventing untoward incidents from happening. Unfortunately, manufacturing and distribution of illegal substances continues to increase in reach, which has led to drug addiction.

Apart from getting hooked on drugs, more people are engaging in excessive alcohol consumption, which has led to an alarming rate of vehicular accidents caused by driving under the influence.

What is a DUI?

Driving under the influence is a criminal offense of operating a vehicle while impaired by either alcohol or drugs – recreational or prescription. There’s a certain level or threshold of alcohol or drug use that makes the driver incapable of operating the vehicle safely.

The year 2016 logged the worst year for drunk-driving deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. About 28 people a day were killed due to DUI accidents. In 2015, it was reported that roughly 10,265 people died due to vehicular crashes that involved alcohol use while driving.

Typical Signs of Individuals Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol

There are several signs associated with drunk driving, and here are some of them:

  • Driving on the wrong side of the road
  • Driving at slow speed
  • Stopping without cause
  • Making wide turns
  • Driving at night with headlights off
  • Almost striking an object or another vehicle
  • Swerving
  • Turning abruptly

Facts and Figures on Drunk Driving

Here are some important dates in the history of drunk driving laws in the U.S.:

  • In 1910, a law was promulgated against drinking and driving, which was initiated by the state of New York.
  • Harger, an Indiana University Professor of toxicology and biochemistry, patented the Drunkometer in 1933. This device reads the intoxication level by breathing into the device through the reaction of chemicals from the blown air.
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded by Cady Lightner in 1980 after her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a carnival driver who was driving under the influence of alcohol.
  • The minimum drinking age was set to 21 years old with the legislation of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984.
  • The Congress adopted a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.8 as the national limit for impaired driving.

The following are alarming facts and figures on arrests related to driving under the influence of alcohol:

  • Approximately 1.5 million people are arrested due to drunk driving yearly, logging one crash every 53 minutes.
  • An estimated average of 10,075 people die annually due to DUI accidents.
  • At least 1, 250 individuals for every 100,000 drivers are arrested due to DUI.
  • Motorcyclists killed in crashes in 2014 have BACs of more than 0.8.

Meanwhile, here is a breakdown of DUI arrests by age group:

Age GroupPercentage
16-17 years old1.8%
65 and older1.8%

How Does Alcohol Affect Drivers?

sleep driving under the influence alcohol

Alcohol drinking has become part of any kind of celebration, whether to signify victory or to make people united. However, drinking alcohol also means having to be responsible because taking in too much may lead to untoward incidents caused by impaired decision-making.

Alcohol can affect an individual in various ways, such as:

  • Slurred speech
  • Pain in the pancreas
  • Loss of coordination
  • Shrinking frontal lobes
  • Hallucinations
  • Liver disease (hepatitis or liver cirrhosis)
  • Mouth problems
  • Stomach distress
  • Arteriosclerosis (hardening of arteries)
  • Increases fatigue
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Infertility
  • Muscle cramps
  • Lowered immune system
  • Skinny, brittle bones

Related Reading: Impact of Alcohol Abuse on Daily Human Life

Alcohol consumption affects individuals both physically and emotionally. One may get drunk easier than others because of the varying degrees of metabolism of individuals.

Central Nervous System

The initial sign of the effect of alcohol consumption is in the change in behavior, which may cause difficulty in talking, lack of coordination especially when walking. Along with these are the possibilities of having clouded thoughts or reasoning. Memory may also be affected most especially to long-time alcohol drinkers who suffer from shrinking of the frontal lobes of the brain.

Severe alcoholism may cause permanent brain damage and dementia. Damage to the nervous system may result to:

  • Numbness or abnormal sensations of both feet and hands.
  • Thiamine deficiency which may lead to weakness, rapid eye movements or paralysis of the eye muscles.

Circulatory System

Circulatory complications can occur due to severe alcohol drinking, such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Arrhythmia
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure

Digestive System

Frequent alcohol consumption may cause health problems starting from the mouth down to the colon. It can cause damage of salivary glands, and may lead to irritation of the mouth and tongue, which may consequently result to dental caries, gum disease (or periodontitis), and tooth loss.

How Alcohol is Absorbed in the body

Large amounts of alcohol may damage the esophagus, which can cause ulcerations, acid reflux and heartburn. Gastritis is also likely to occur.

A damaged digestive system means not being able to absorb nutrients and B vitamins that should control building up of bacteria. As a result, most alcoholics suffer from malnutrition. They also face a high risk of having cancers in the throat, mouth and esophagus.

Excretory System

Drinking alcohol with an empty stomach may cause one to get drunk easily. Meanwhile, those who eat food high in fat may not feel intoxicated because of the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream processes longer.

Liver diseases are bound to happen to chronic alcohol drinkers. Excessive drinking can lead to pancreatitis, liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. These are life-threatening medical conditions associated with alcohol abuse.

Immune System

An individual who consumes alcohol excessively weakens his immune system, making the person more susceptible to various health conditions. It also increases the individual’s risk of having cancer.

Reproductive System

It is very common among male alcohol drinkers to have erectile dysfunction because it inhibits testosterone formation, which can then lead to infertility.

In females, excessive alcohol consumption may cause cessation of menstruation and can also lead to infertility. It also poses a high risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or premature delivery. Women who remain to have a drinking disorder while pregnant may produce babies having a range of problems. One of the worst medical issues involving children from pregnant alcoholics is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, which causes physical defects, learning disabilities, and emotional disturbances throughout their lifetime.

Skeleto-Muscular System

Long-time alcohol drinkers may increase their risk of having osteoporosis and bone fractures. Muscles become weaker and may reduce over time (i.e. atrophy).

Dangers of Alcohol DUI

driving under the influence of alcohol vehicular accidents

Some individuals may think that they can handle driving even if they only have a few rounds of beer or a few shots of their favorite liquor. After all, people have varying degrees of intoxication: it may take only a small amount of alcohol for some drinkers to be psychologically or emotionally impaired compared to others. This can also depend on the weight of the individual as well as the amount of alcohol consumed.

As soon as alcohol is absorbed in the bloodstream, both our mind and body can experience several changes.

Varying BAC levels can exhibit the following effects:

Blood Alcohol ConcentrationTypical EffectPossible Effects on Driving
.02%Slightly body warmth

Altered mood


Some loss of judgment

Divided attention

Decline in visual functions

.05%Loss of muscle control

Impaired judgment

Exaggerated behavior

Lowered alertness

Good feeling

Difficulty steering

Reduced coordination

Reduced ability to track moving objects

.08%Difficulty in detecting danger

Impaired reasoning, memory, judgment and self-control

Poor muscle coordination

Decreased visual search/detection

Loss of concentration

Memory lapses

Speed control

Impaired perception

.10%Slurred speech

Poor coordination

Deterioration of reaction

Reduced ability to maintain lane position

Loss of balance

Loss of muscle control

Impairment of visual and auditory processing

Testing for Alcohol DUI

Individuals who are suspected to be driving under the influence of alcohol are required to undergo alcohol testing. Currently, there are three types of BAC testing used.

1. Breath Test

It is the most common method used by law enforcements because it is compact, portable, easy to use and can provide immediate results. These breathalyzers are used to determine the level of alcohol that passes through the air sacs and gets expelled on an individual’s breath.

2. Blood Test

Taking a blood test to determine the toxicity level of an individual is more accurate that the breath test. However, law enforcers need the consent of the individual prior to extraction because of its intrusive approach. The refusal of the subject to undergo such test may result to higher fines and longer jail times than those who immediately comply.

Although blood test can be more accurate than breath and urine test, there is also a window of possible errors that may render the result as inaccurate. Circumstances such as refrigeration, vial mix-ups, fermentation of blood, and lack of sterilization may produce erroneous test results.

3. Urine Test

Urine testing is the least accurate type of BAC test, but can be used in the absence of other tests. It is suggested that the actual BAC in urine may either be lower or higher than the BAC in the blood.

One factor that may affect the result of a BAC urine test is the delay in obtaining a sample. When law enforcers identify a person suspected of driving under the influence, the discovery usually happens in the middle of the road. As a result, the driver may need a little privacy to be able to get a sample.

Some individuals may also tamper with the sample by diluting it with water or other masking agents, or by substituting the sample. To validate such sample, temperature testing is performed wherein the temperature of freshly extracted urine sample should be the same as the body temperature of about 37 degrees Celsius.

Safety Tips to Prevent Drunk Driving

There are many ways for us to enjoy drinking alcohol and still be able to free ourselves from getting slapped with a DUI ticket.

  • Every individual who wishes to drink alcohol should be responsible enough to drink only a certain amount most especially if he is driving alone.
  • Assign someone who can drive you home safely. Of course, choose the person who is unlikely to drink alcohol.
  • It would be safer to take an alternative mode of transportation instead of driving on your own.

Avoiding the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol saves not only your life, but the lives of others as well.


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