The holiday season is the time for festivities, family, and friends––but NOT the time for alcohol over-consumption that leads to impaired driving.
December is National Driving Impaired Prevention Month. With this in mind, this is the time of year where we should give thanks for all we have, spend quality time with friends and family, and help others—the poor, people with disabilities, or just someone that needs a little pick-me-up. What we should not do is drive impaired.
With the holiday season upon us, many of us will be attending parties and festivities where alcohol will be served. For those who decide to drink, some will drink moderately and responsibly, while others will drink excessively. Unfortunately, many people will drive while their ability to do so is impaired, and in some cases, accidents and even death will result.
To avoid turning a happy time of the year into a disaster by being charged with DWI, or even much worse, harming another or yourself due to an alcohol related accident, we should raise our awareness about how alcohol affects the mind and body. Despite what some believe, alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant that slows down the body’s ability to respond to situations and affects physical coordination and judgement—thus the tough societal approach against impaired driving. Think about it: driving a 4,000 pound vehicle with compromised coordination and judgement is a recipe for disaster.
While we’re sipping wine or whiskey, decorating trees or lighting menorahs, we should be aware of the changes occurring. The immediate effects of alcohol could include a feeling of confidence, sleepiness, losing balance, and feeling dizzy. After a few drinks we could start to get rowdy or make poor choices, even though we believe we’re being funny or the life of the party. Think of the proverbial office Christmas party blunder where you become a bit too amorous with the boss’s spouse. Been there, done that. Of course, the higher risk behavior of getting behind the wheel would have much more deleterious effects, and is too often the case when our judgement is skewed by excessive alcohol.
Long-term alcohol use or abuse can cause significant behavioral changes such as having unprotected or unwanted sex. It can also effect or even ruin relationships with friends and family members as your behavior becomes more erratic, unpredictable, or even violent. Financial problems could become a concern as you begin to spend more and more money on alcohol, either buying too many rounds at the local bar or sitting home in isolation with a bottle of single-malt scotch.
It’s well settled that many people drink excessively to wash away their worries, anxieties, sadness, or depression. Over a prolonged period, this practice could be particularly dangerous. Excessive drinking affects your brain chemistry when the alcohol impairs your brain’s ability to produce and release serotonin, the chemical that gives us a feeling of well-being. This change causes the heavy drinker to become depressed when he or she doesn’t have a certain level of alcohol in his or her system.
Some of the signs that you’re drinking too much and too often might include you setting a limit for yourself, say only three drinks on a given evening, and then exceeding that number. Ignoring complaints from family and friends about your drinking, or hiding your drinking from others are sure signs that something is wrong. Legal problems such as DWI or assaults, public intoxication etc., are signs you might have a problem. Showing up late to work, or not performing at a level consistent with your abilities due to over consumption are also signs of a problem. And coupled with these issues is the financial aspect. For example, if charged with a DUI or DWI, and you need to hire a DWI lawyer, the costs soar into the thousands of dollars as well.
The good news is that we can enjoy ourselves during the holiday season or at any time of the year by being aware of our alcohol use. Keeping an eye on our actions and paying attention to the reactions of others around us. Utilizing trusted designated drivers who vow not to drink even a single drop is an effective approach at avoiding trouble. And perhaps most importantly, if you decide that your drinking habits are a problem and you need some help stopping, the help is out there. The following website has a short quiz you can take, one put together by medical clinicians trained in the treatment of addiction. If there is a question in your mind, chances are you would benefit by talking to a professional or at least explore the issue further. Always remember, you can turn things around for the better and the sooner you get started, the better off you’ll be. For additional information, you can visit www.alcoholscreening.org; or www.aa.org.
By: Andrew McKenna, Law Clerk, Anelli Xavier and Author of Sheer Madness: From Federal Prosecutor to Federal Prisoner
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