It is now widely known how dangerous drinking and driving can be. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 29 people in the United States die, every day, in crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver.1
As public consciousness becomes more sensitive to this problem and laws become stricter for violators, more people are choosing to intervene to prevent others from drinking and driving, even if they are strangers. Other people choose to confront the people they love when there is no imminent threat but it is known that the person has a habit of drinking and driving. Both immediate interventions and follow-up talks, if approached carefully, can help prevent the potential terrible consequences of drinking and driving.
Alcohol and Driving Ability
Driving safely means remaining alert to changing conditions, both inside and outside of the vehicle, and utilizing quick reflexes if needed to avert a collision or some other disaster. At any moment while someone is driving, someone on a bicycle could ride out in front of the vehicle or a piece of debris could fall into the middle of the road. With quick reflexes and alert senses, these incidents become minor annoyances that don’t cause too much stress or difficulty. But when people are impaired, small incidents can quickly become big problems.
Alcohol has the ability to numb the mind and make quick reactions difficult, even when the person doesn’t yet realize that he or she is drunk. Alcohol intoxication may happen at different intervals for different people; however, alcohol intoxication will produce symptoms in all people eventually.
These symptoms include the following:
- Reduced reaction time
- Poor judgment
- Loss of balance
- Loss of motor skills
- Slurred speech
If a driver can’t tell if a moving object is a leaf or an animal until the car is on top of the object, the user’s reaction times will be remarkably slower as a result. This change in judgment and perception might happen long before the person develops other outward signs of drunkenness.
One of the first effects of alcohol on the brain is to inhibit neural pathways. Chemicals that naturally connect messages in the brain are slowed so that all processing also slows down. This happens before there are any outward signs of intoxication and likely before a person would be considered legally over the limit.2
At higher levels of intoxication, this impairment is even more pronounced, and it can lead to slow reaction times and a lack of coordination.
This is incredibly troubling for people who are driving, as they might not be able to maneuver the wheel and handle the pedals of a car while driving drunk. Interestingly, people who drink heavily on a repeated basis may have numbed their minds to such a degree that they have difficulty handling complicated tasks much of the time, even when they’re not actively drinking. One study has shown that even moderate drinking can negatively affect memory and spatial functioning over time.
Therefore, whether someone is actively drinking or has held a pattern of drinking for some time, they are likely to have some deficiencies when driving.
Drunk Driving and the Law
Currently, it’s illegal for people to drive while they are intoxicated. Law enforcement officials have determined that the damage that alcohol causes to the brain makes it difficult for people to drive safely, and they’ve set limits above which people cannot drink and drive.
Most of those limits center around a blood alcohol concentration level. It is a measurement that indicates how much alcohol is in the bloodstream still to be processed and removed by the liver.
Often, this blood alcohol level can be approximated through the breath, when people are asked by law enforcement to blow into specialized devices, but people might also be asked to do the following to check for sobriety:
- Count backwards
- Walk down a straight line
- Touch their nose with their fingertips
- Answer questions about where they live and where they were born
In some states, not being able to complete these tasks could lead to legal action, even if they are able to pass breathing tests for blood alcohol concentrations.
Intervening in the Moment
Bystanders who see an obviously impaired person getting ready to drive have an opportunity to save lives and prevent disaster by speaking up about the danger of the situation. By stepping in, right then, they can help influence the impaired person not to drive.
Alcohol makes it hard for people to process information and make good decisions, so when you intervene, you must be the person in charge.
Some ideas for intervening include the following:
- Pay for a ride – Even if you are not in a city with a cab or taxi service, other independent services with accessible apps now make getting a ride for someone very simple.
- Drive them yourself – You can give a simple plan of getting them home and how to get their car the next day.
- Utilize others around you – There is strength in numbers. If you receive pushback from the person who is drunk, ask others who are around to help encourage him or her to receive the help that is needed.
- Be firm and clear – Whatever you do, don’t back down. It’s important to not be aggressive, but you must maintain control of the situation in order to protect the potential driver and his or her victims.
Many people will tend to not step in if they do not know the drunk driver or if they personally have been drinking. While these might be reasonable reasons to stay behind the scenes in most cases, it’s important to remember that a person who is driving drunk has the capacity to kill many other people that he or she doesn’t even know. By stepping in, these strangers may help keep these other innocent drivers alive.
Interventions After the Fact
People who drive while drunk have taken their addictions to new levels, placing both their own safety and the safety of others at risk. While a drunk driving episode may allow some people to understand the dangers of their addictions and these episodes might motivate them to get help, other people might wake up the morning after an episode and feel as though nothing serious had happened at all.
Even people who are arrested for drunk driving may not face consequences that force them to think twice about their drinking. For example, in New Hampshire, a first offense of drunk driving might only merit impaired driving education classes. This level of care is unlikely to actually help someone with a long history of problems relating to alcohol, but it may be all they get if it is their first time arrested.
Families are in an ideal position to help the alcoholic understand the nature of the addiction once a drunk driving episode has come to light. Armed with this information, they have proof that the addiction is causing the person to make decisions that could have a serious impact both on his own life and the people around him. A formal intervention might provide an ideal opportunity to bring this issue to light.
- “I am worried that you will harm someone while you drink and drive.”
- “I fear that you’ll be arrested and lose your job for drinking and driving.”
- “When you drink and drive, I don’t feel as though I am safe in the car.”
- “I don’t want my children to ride with you because I’m afraid that you will drink and drive.”
- “I want you to get treatment so you will stop drinking and driving.”
These are powerful statements that can help the person see how truly dangerous the family feels the drinking and driving is, and these statements also allow the person to feel as though the family only wants what is best. They don’t want to punish, but they do want the behavior to stop. Perhaps at the end of this conversation, the person who has been drinking and driving will agree to get help from a reputable addiction center, and the problematic behavior will never be repeated.
Holding an intervention like this takes planning in order to have the best chance at success.
Some people respond to interventions with anger, and they refuse to discuss the issue at all. Other people simply leave the room when the topic is broached, and they shut down to all feedback. Intervention specialists might be helpful in planning for these type situations.
Interventionists have years of experience in structuring these difficult conversations, and they know just what sorts of statements tend to inflame rather than support. If your loved one has an explosive personality, an interventionist might provide vital help that could get that person to stop drinking and driving, and get them into a formal addiction program.
Finding Help for Drinking and Driving Interventions
If you need help in preventing drinking and driving, we can help. At Talbott Campus, we offer services from planning an intervention to full-scale treatment and recovery. We want to help you and your loved ones heal from alcohol abuse and help equip you to care for them in any situation. Please call our 24-hour, toll-free helpline today at 855-894-3703 to let us help you begin your journey to a better life.
1 "Impaired Driving: Get the Facts." US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 16 June 2017.
2 Balentine, Jerry, "Alcohol Intoxication." Emedicinehealth.com. 20 November 2017.
3 Osborne, Hannah, "Alcohol and Brain Damage: Moderate Drinking Linked to Cognitive Decline." Newsweek. 7 June 2017.