Alcohol and Driving Safety

Alcohol and Driving Safety

The effects of alcohol are both short and long term no matter if you drink socially or are diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (AUD). In 2017, an estimated 14.4 million Americans over 12 years of age suffer from AUD.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

Short-term effects of alcohol on your body and emotions are present regardless of the manner in which you use alcohol. Your liver can metabolize about one standard drink per hour. A person’s age, weight, gender and condition of their liver plays a role in how their body processes alcohol. Consumption of alcohol increases blood alcohol content (BAC) which is used to measure if a person is capable of safely performing certain tasks. The short-term effects include

  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Lower attentiveness.
  • Lower bodily function coordination
  • Lower critical judgment
  • Blurred perception and vision
  • Mood swings
  • Reduced core body temperature
  • High blood pressure
  • Passing out
  • Vomiting

It is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol. Driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or more is considered illegal. Every one absorbs alcohol differently and you might be considered driving impaired even if you are under the BAC limit. The chart below gives an estimate of BAC in one hour of drinking for men and women in different weight categories.

One standard drink of any type of alcoholic beverage has the same alcohol content, so it does not matter if you drink liquor, beer, or wine. One standard drink (or one alcoholic drink equivalent) contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in: 12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about 5% alcohol. 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12% alcohol. 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40% alcohol.

As you can see from the table above, alcohol affects everyone differently based on their weight. A 100 lbs man will reach the illegal BAC limit with half as many drinks as a 240 lbs man. However, a 160 lbs woman will reach the same BAC limit with as many drinks as a 100 lbs man. Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream where it is transported around until the liver can process or metabolise it. Larger people can be affected less, or more slowly than smaller people. In a smaller person, alcohol is concentrated into a smaller area due to their smaller size and smaller body mass. Therefore larger people usually have a lower BAC when they drink the same amount of alcohol as smaller people. Gender also plays a role on the effect of alcohol. Females are affected by alcohol more than males because their bodies carry more fatty tissue. Since alcohol does not dissolve in fat, it is concentrated into a smaller area in a female body and therefore has a bigger and quicker effect. Given the same amount of alcohol a female usually will have a higher blood alcohol level than a male.

Long-Term Effect of Alcohol

Long term heavy alcohol consumption is associated with many serious health problems and damage several important organs.

Liver - Chronic alcohol abuse results in destruction of liver cells resulting in scarring of the liver also known as cirrhosis of the liver. Conditions such as fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis may develop. Alcohol hepatitis and cellular mutation may lead to liver cancer.

Digestive System - Alcohol can damage the lining of the stomach and increase the production of stomach acid, which can contribute to ulcers. Alcohol may also alter nutrient breakdown, absorption, transportation, storage, and excretion, leading to nutrient deficiencies and/or trouble fully using nutrients. Vitamin B1 deficiency is common with heavy alcohol use that can lead to serious neurological issues. Alcohol can also impair blood sugar control.

Pancreas - Alcohol prompts pancreatic production of harmful substances, which can lead to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that impairs digestion.

Central nervous system (CNS) - Vitamin B1 deficiency also known as Thiamine deficiency can lead to Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome. Symptoms may include confusion, impaired coordination, learning problems, and memory difficulties. Liver disease can also harm the brain, resulting in symptoms such as sleep changes, alterations in mood, personality changes, depression, anxiety, impaired concentration, and incoordination. Too much alcohol may also hinder new brain cell growth.

Cardiovascular (CV) health - Drinking alcohol can result in several complicated impacts on cardiovascular health. Consuming too much alcohol can contribute to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, trouble pumping blood through the body, blood clots, stroke, cardiomyopathy, or heart attack. In 2016, alcohol-related CV diseases caused an estimated 593,000 deaths globally. Excessive alcohol use, both directly and through malnutrition, can also lead to anemia.

Reproductive health - Consuming too much alcohol can lead to reproductive problems, including erectile dysfunction and irregular menstruation. Both men and women may have reduced fertility with long-term, heavy drinking. Women who drink while pregnant are at increased risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, or having a child with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Bones - Alcohol abuse can cause a calcium imbalance in the body, which is an important nutrient to maintain healthy bones. Consuming too much alcohol can also cause a disruption to the production of vitamin D, which is needed for calcium absorption. Lack of calcium increases the risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis increases the risk of bone fractures, which can cause serious pain and disability.