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Things to remember this holiday season

Do you know anyone who has been arrested for Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI)?  If you do, ask yourself some questions: were you surprised when it happened?  Are they the type of person you imagined would get a DUI?  Did you think they were at risk before it happened?

The answers to these questions are different for different people.  As a substance abuse counselor, I met hundreds of people who got DUIs.  Some of them knew they were problem drinkers and the consequence of a DUI was in some ways a relief because it became their path to getting help.  But many others were surprised to find themselves with a DUI.  Statements like these were common:

-          “I don’t even go out that much, how could this happen to me?”

-          “I didn’t feel drunk at all.  Maybe the breathalyzer was wrong.”

-          “I really only had a couple drinks, I didn’t imagine my BAC was high.”

From my experience, the people saying these things believed them.  They really didn’t feel drunk, and they really were surprised that “a couple” beers got over the DUI limit.  It’s tempting to lump all DUI offenders into the category of “alcoholic.”  But a large number of DUI offenders are not alcoholics.

One thing that gets people who drink but are not alcoholics into “the DUI trap” is having a high tolerance.  This is a little counterintuitive.  When it comes to high tolerance, we typically think things like, “Hey, that guy can really hold his liquor.”  Or, “she does drink a lot of wine, but it doesn’t really affect her that much.”  We mostly see it as a good thing. 

Research tells us otherwise.  While a thorough review of the research on tolerance is too much for this article, see the links below for this information. 

But logic can also help us understand why high tolerances equate to increased risk.  Imagine six coworkers get together at a bar and drink two drinks each.  Two of them feel tipsy, two feel sleepy, and two feel nothing at all.  Which coworkers are likelier to drive?  Of course, those who don’t feel the effects of alcohol are likelier to drive.  But which of them have the highest BAC?  In this scenario, we don’t know the answer to that (variables include how much they ate, how fast they consumed drinks, and body weight/mass).  It is entirely possible that they have equal BACs, or even that the people who feel no effects have higher BACs than the others.  Thus, their high tolerance puts them at greater risk of getting a DUI.

In addition, there are different types of tolerance – acute tolerance, functional tolerance, metabolic tolerance.  Again, it is outside the scope of this article to review this in detail (see the links), but suffice it to say that these can develop at different rates.  So, for example, often times we see that tolerance related to mental functioning (the ability to perform mental tasks with a high BAC) develops faster than tolerance related to physical tasks requiring eye-hand coordination (like driving).  Even though a person with high tolerance may not feel the effects of alcohol, it is probably affecting them in imperceptible ways.

In short, having a high tolerance does not mean your body keeps a low BAC when you consume alcohol.  It means you feel less effects even when your BAC is high.  So basing a decision to drive on whether you are feeling the effects is a very risky decision-making process.  What is the solution?  MAKE A PLAN.  If you drink two STANDARD drinks or less AND you drink them at a rate of 1 hour per drink, you are not at risk.  So commit to that amount and rate.  If you don’t want to commit to that amount or rate, make sure that whoever is driving you home is committed.  Outside of staying sober, it is the only sure way to mitigate the risk of getting a DUI this holiday season.

We here at the ASAP care about you, your family, and the community you live in.  Keep yourself and everyone safe this holiday season.  Make a plan, and stick to it.

For more information call Rick Gross at the ASAP, 245-4576.