A good night out can live long in the memory. Time spent with good friends enjoying a few drinks is a popular way to relax and unwind. But unfortunately, many people don’t consider the full consequences that alcohol can have on them over the course of the night.
Despite the extensive media attention and the risks of DWI, some people still choose to drive home after a period of heavy drinking. You may find yourself under pressure to drink, or in the company of someone attempting to drive while drunk. In this article, we look at how alcohol can affect you and how you can plan ahead for a night out. We also examine the impacts of drinking, the alternatives, and other tips.
The Effects of Drinking Alcohol
To better understand the impacts of alcohol on our bodies and lives, we’ve outlined some key information below:
What is Alcohol?
The alcohol we drink is ethanol that comes from fermented sugars. Usually, fruits or grains are used to produce this alcohol. It acts as a depressant, which means that in small amounts it makes us more sociable and reduces anxiety. However, high quantities can result in drunkenness, unconsciousness, or even death. It has a long history in our societies and is still popular today.
How Does Alcohol Affect You?
Many people will be familiar with the warm fuzziness that can come from drinking alcohol. It may make you feel more confident and less uptight. However, it also has some negative impacts on your body and cognition.
Your reaction times slow when you drink, which means it takes you longer to act when presented with certain stimuli. Similarly, your comprehension and coordination are also impacted. If you’ve ever experienced the blurry or tunnel vision that comes when you drink too much, this is also the effects of alcohol. Your spatial awareness and concentration also suffer negative consequences.
Why Are Some People Affected Differently?
You’ll likely have noticed that some people can drink a lot and not feel the effects, while others are complete ‘lightweights’ when it comes to alcohol. There are many factors that determine how you are affected when you drink. This includes:
- Your Weight
- Your Sex
- How quickly you’re drinking
- Whether or not you’ve eaten
- Your Age
- Whether or not you’re a regular drinker
- Genetic factors
Each of us is affected differently, which is what can make alcohol such a dangerous drug at times.
What is a Standard Drink in the US?
The volume of liquid in your glass isn’t always directly proportional to how strong your drink is. Even similar drinks can have different alcohol contents. For example, a regular beer has around 5% alcohol, while a lighter beer can have as little as 4.2%. Wine has about 12%, and spirits usually around 40%.
A standard drink in the US is around 12 ounces of beer, or 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits. The total alcohol content for each of these is around 14 grams.
Is it Safer to Drink Beer/Wine or Spirts?
Taking the information above into account, beer or wine is no ‘safer’ than spirits. However, the danger comes due to the strength and small measure of spirits. The effects are the same if you drink the same amount of standard units. However, on a night out many people will drink spirits.
Because of how little volume they have, it’s easy to drink a lot of spirits in a short time. Even when mixed with soda, there’s less liquid volume than with a pint of beer. Many people also take ‘shots’. Multiple of these are equivalent to drinking multiple glasses of beer or wine. It’s for this reason that people tend to get drunk quicker when drinking spirits.
Creating a Plan Before You Go Out
It’s essential that you plan how your evening is going to progress before you go out. This means that the vital decisions about driving, sharing a taxi, or staying over somewhere are decided ahead of time. Your most important choice is who will be your designated driver. This person must be responsible, and either not drink or stay well within the legal limit.
Below, we’ve outlined some advice for what to do if your designated driver, or a friend under the influence, decides they want to drink and drive home.
Talk About Plans for Getting Home – Before You Start Drinking
If possible, have a discussion with your friend before they start drinking to find out how they plan to get home. If they intend to drive themselves, you may want to remind them of this plan as the night unfolds. This point is especially relevant if it appears they are drinking too much.
If you suspect that your friend may drink too much and try to drive – even if they have promised otherwise – you may want to alter your drinking activities for the remainder of the night to ensure that everyone makes it home safely.
Take a Non-Confrontational Approach
When it comes time to try and convince a friend not to drive drunk, it is important to take a non-confrontational approach to the conversation. Emotions will likely be higher, and depending on how much your friend has drunk, they may be irritable or edgy. Instead of matching those emotions, take a calm and cool stance and don’t raise your voice. You’ll be more likely to have a successful resolution.
You also need to remember that your friend is under the influence of alcohol and isn’t thinking clearly. In addition to a soft approach, you may need to speak slowly and explain your stance more than once so that they can fully understand you. While this can be a frustrating experience, try to stay collected throughout this exchange.
Explain Your Concern
Make sure your friend knows that you aren’t simply trying to tell them what to do – you’re worried about them. Let the person know that you care about them and don’t want them to hurt themselves or face serious legal consequences.
Suggest That Your Friend Crash at Your Place
If your friend seems as though they are planning to drive home, suggest that they spend the night at your house rather than try to drive drunk. Whether you have a spare bed or an unoccupied couch, by crashing at your place, your friend will be able to drink without worrying about the consequences of drunk driving. These consequences include an auto accident, injuring someone, or legal repercussions.
If your friend is insisting that they need to go home, offer them an alternative to driving. Offer to call them a cab or an Uber, or lend them money for a bus fare. If there are any sober drivers around, see if they can catch a ride with someone responsible. Also, remind them of the potential legal costs of having to hire an attorney to provide a DWI Defense, if charged with the crime.
Get Moral Support
If you don’t seem to be making any progress when attempting to convince a friend not to drive while drunk, call in some reinforcements. It will be more difficult for your friend to say “no” to multiple people.
Grab Your Friend’s Keys
If you have the opportunity, take your friend’s keys in order to physically prevent them from driving home. It will also be much easier to persuade them to choose another option when you hold this leverage.
Call Law Enforcement
If none of your previous efforts have worked, your only alternative may be to call law enforcement to intervene. If your friend hasn’t left yet, you may simply want to call the police and ask for advice – all while your friend is still in earshot. When your friend knows that the police are now aware of your friend’s attempts to get behind the wheel, they will likely change their mind about trying to drive.
If your friend did choose to drive despite your coaxing, calling the police is still your best option. Remind yourself that it is better to have your friend arrested, but safe, rather than to have them injured or even killed as a result of driving drunk.
What Constitutes Too Much Drinking?
As we mentioned above, everyone reacts to alcohol differently. That being said, there are some guidelines on what’s a ‘healthy’ or acceptable amount to drink. Healthy adults should drink in moderation, and those of legal drinking age should follow daily guidelines. These outline that one drink per day for women and two per day for men is a moderate amount of drinking.
Legally, the matter is stricter. The deciding factor is Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). Again, factors such as age, weight, and gender affect how much alcohol your body absorbs. The legal limit for driving in the US is a BAC of .08. This figure means you have .08 grams of alcohol in your body per every 100ml of blood. Your safest bet is not to drink at all if you’re the designated driver.
How to Determine if You’ve Had Too Much to Drink
When you’re on a night out, it can soon become difficult to keep track of how much alcohol you’ve consumed. Whether you’re the designated driver or not, you should still make sure you don’t drink too much. Below are some signs that you might have had too many:
- You start to lose control of your finer motor skills or start getting clumsy.
- You feel the urge to lie down in places you otherwise wouldn’t.
- You’ll drink anything that’s put in front of you.
- You start craving unhealthy food.
- You start talking in an uncharacteristic manner or start making unrealistic plans.
To find out a vague guideline on how much you can healthily intake, try using an alcohol calculator. Note that these should be used for information purposes only. You should not use them to determine whether you’re fit to drive.
The Benefits of Staying Sober
Although the prospect of staying sober when everyone else is drinking isn’t always an appealing one, there are numerous benefits. If you’re the designated driver, you can rest assured that you’re helping your friends when they need you the most. Don’t be tempted to stray from your responsibilities. We’ve outlined some of the pluses of staying sober on a night out, below:
Some of the health benefits of staying sober on a night out include:
- Sleeping better. Alcohol interrupts the most vital period of sleep (REM sleep). Although you may pass out after a good few drinks, you won’t wake up feeling well-rested.
- More energy. As you’ll sleep better, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and energetic. This means you can be more active and make the most of the next day.
- Fewer calories. Alcohol is quite calorific. As the drinks add up, you’ll be adding empty calories to your intake. What’s more, you’ll probably be craving junk food at the end of the night. Staying sober means you’ll be healthier overall.
- You won’t disgrace yourself. Fun as it can be to have a few drinks, going overboard can often remove your inhibitions too much. Staying sober means you’ll avoid making bad decisions or doing something you’ll regret in the morning.
- You’ll remember the entire night. People who drink too much will often suffer from partial memory loss of the night. This is avoided if you choose not to drink.
- You’ll have more money. Alcohol is expensive at the best of times. By staying dry, you’ll only have to worry about buying a few sodas.
- You won’t have a hangover. The day after can sometimes be a struggle, particularly if you’ve overdone it. You’ll feel a lot better about life if you cut out the drink.
- You’ll be happier. Alcohol is a depressant, and too much can bring your mood down. When you’re sober, you can rationalize the situation better.
- You’ll have more time. A hangover can wreck your plans for the next day, leaving you tired and unmotivated. Without getting drunk, you’ll have more time on your hands to do the things you want.
The Dangers and Consequences of Drinking and Driving
Drinking alcohol and driving is irresponsible and dangerous. You are putting yourself at risk, as well as those in the car with you, and other road users. In 2016, 28% of all traffic-related deaths were caused by alcohol-impaired drivers.
If your BAC is above 0.10, you are seven times more likely than an unimpaired driver to be involved in a fatal crash. Even if you’ve only had a couple of beers, your risk of having an accident is still increased. The only totally safe way to drive is without consuming any alcohol at all. The more you drink, the more likely you are to be involved in an accident.
There are some very serious legal implications if you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol. If your BAC is 0.08 or higher, you could be charged with a DWI/DUI. We’ll explore these terms in greater detail below, but for now here are the basics:
- A DUI will result in you losing your license for a year if it’s your first offense. You will also have to attend an outpatient alcohol abuse program and be placed on probation. Multiple crimes have more significant penalties.
- A DWI could mean you lose your license, have to participate in a treatment program, or even go to jail.
Drunk Driving: The Figures
There are plenty of shocking statistics that demonstrate just how dangerous drinking and driving can be. Below are some of the most shocking:
- In Minnesota alone, over 13,000 people have been arrested for DWI this year.
- In 2016 in Minnesota, there were 93 fatalities related to alcohol-impaired drivers.
- The national level of drink driving fatalities was 10,497.
- There were 19,196 arrests in Minnesota for DUIs and 1,017,808 nationwide in 2016.
- Between 2003 and 2012, 1442 people were killed in accidents related to drunk drivers.
- Around 1 in every 3 traffic deaths in the US involves a drunk driver.
How Do You Know if You or Your Friends are too Drunk to Drive?
When you’re on a night out, it can sometimes be difficult to tell who’s sober enough to drive and who isn’t. You therefore need to know what signs to look out for. Here are some ways you can tell if you’ve had too much to drink.
- Poor muscle control. If you’re stumbling, dropping things, or generally have poor coordination, you’ve likely had too much.
- Slurred speech. This is another telltale sign that you’re too intoxicated to drive. Words seem to bunch together or make little sense.
- Slow reaction time. If you or your friends seem to have slowed down with reacting to events, this could be down to alcohol. There are a few ways you can test this (see below).
- Memory loss. People who have had too much to drink will often experience short-term memory loss. Try asking your friends questions about recent conversations.
- Bloodshot eyes. Many people will look flushed or have red eyes when they’re inebriated. Look for these obvious physical signs.
- Finger test. You may have seen this performed by officers in DUI situations. Ask your friend to stand straight with their eyes closed. Get them to touch their nose with their index finger, alternating sides. This tests coordination and balance.
- Walking test. Another popular test is to see if you can walk along a straight line, heel to toe. Alcohol impairs your ability to do so.
- Back Track app. This iPhone app monitors your eye movements. It performs what is called a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test. When you drink too much, your eyes quiver slightly. The app will detect this.
- Blood Alcohol Calculator. Some websites can estimate your BAC. Although not 100% accurate, they can give a guideline for how much you’ve consumed. It should not be used to base your decision to drive on.
- Use a breathalyzer. It’s possible to purchase a breathalyzer, which will calculate your BAC. Again, this should be used as a guideline rather than a decision-maker.
How to Sober Up
There is nothing you can do to lower your blood alcohol concentration other than wait for your body to process it. You should therefore never take the risk of driving until you’re absolutely sure you’re sober.
However, there are some ways to help you feel more alert. Again, these methods shouldn’t be used as an attempt to lower your BAC.
- Eat. Eating before, during, and after drinking means that alcohol will be absorbed into your bloodstream at a slower rate. It won’t stop you being over the drunk driving limit, but it can help you feel better. Drinking water and fruit juice can also help.
- Sleep. The best way to sober up is to sleep. It allows the body to recover and process the alcohol. Resting also means that your liver has time to metabolize the alcohol in your system.
- Drink coffee. As a short-term measure, coffee can help make you feel more alert. However, it doesn’t reduce your BAC.
- Cold water. A cold shower can have similar effects to a cup of coffee. It may raise your alertness, but it won’t make you sober.
What to do if You’re Left Alone
If you find yourself alone on a night out after consuming alcohol, there are a few steps you should take:
- Don’t drive, under any circumstances. The temptation might be strong, but the risks aren’t worth it.
- Try to contact your friends. If you’ve been separated, try to get in touch with your group. If they don’t respond, try contacting someone you know who lives close by.
- Don’t drink more. The last thing you want is to be so drunk you don’t know where you are or who you’re with.
- Call a relative. If you know someone who can possibly come and pick you up, try to contact them.
- Order a taxi or rideshare. If you’re concerned about your safety, make sure you message someone with your movements and include details of the car that picks you up.
How to Avoid Driving Drunk
If you plan ahead and keep your wits about you, it’s easy to avoid driving while drunk. Here are some tips to help you:
- Designate a driver. Make sure someone is taking responsibility for driving you home.
- Leave your car at home. This removes the temptation to drive after you have a drink.
- Take public transport. Wherever possible, rely on professionals to transport you home.
- Use a taxi or rideshare service. Sharing one with your friends can be cheap and a lot safer.
- Give up your keys. If you end up driving and then have some drinks, give your car keys to someone trustworthy.
- Accept help. If your friends are trying to convince you not to drive, listen to them.
- Pay attention to the weather. If you know the weather will be bad, take that into account when planning your night out.
DUI vs. DWI
DUI stands for driving under the influence. DWI stands for driving while intoxicated. Although on the surface these two terms seem to mean the same thing, some states treat them separately. Often, DWI is a more serious crime and suggests the driver is intoxicated to a greater degree.
In Minnesota, a DWI means that you are driving with a BAC over 0.08. A DUI denotes that you were in control of a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Because of the similarity of these, the terms are often used interchangeably.
The consequences of either of these can be severe. If you’re charged with a DUI or DWI, you could face a charge of $1000 and up to 90 days behind bars if it’s your first offense. For repeat offenders, this could range up to $14,000 and seven years in jail.
Looking to Quit Drinking?
If you’re concerned about the amount you’re drinking and are looking to quit, there are options available to you. You should start by making a conscious effort to drink less. Try staying sober on a night out, or limiting your intake.
If you find that you can’t cut down, you should consider perhaps having a chemical assessment done to determine if you are chemically dependent and perhaps in need of treatment.