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Alcohol and Driving

Driving under the influence of alcohol kills more than 13,000 people in the United States annually.  And the long-term consumption of heavy alcohol use can cause serious health conditions. 

Each year, in Illinois there are more than 600 deaths due to alcohol-related accidents.  Ronald Kanwischer, assistant professor of psychiatry and a substance abuse counselor at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, explains the alcohol level at which drivers are considered intoxicated.

SOUND BITE:  “. . .  in Illinois, we’re at .08 as the legal interpretation of intoxication.  For a male it would take about five drinks over about an hour’s period of time to reach that.  Women experience alcohol different and they get a higher blood alcohol level at less alcohol, so they may only take three drinks for them to reach that . .”

Kanwischer says there are serious legal and medical consequences to consuming alcohol and for driving under the influence.  The most serious legal charges can carry a substantial fine.  If the driver hurts another person, they can be sentenced to jail or even lose their license.  From a medical perspective, long-term heavy alcohol use can cause health conditions such as cancer and liver failure.  Kanwischer advises people to plan ahead.

SOUND BITE:  “. . . if you do plan to drink, you pick a designated driver, or you call a taxi, so you make those arrangements ahead of time.  The second and a very simple thing to do is slow down your drinking.  If you consume a drink an hour, then the alcohol doesn’t have a chance to build up in your body and you will be much less impaired.” 

Kanwischer says eating helps absorb the alcohol, especially foods such as cheese and crackers.  He urges people to celebrate responsibly and consider a designated driver if needed.  If someone has a drinking problem, they should see their primary care physician or mental health counselor.

This is Ruth Slottag at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.