SIU School of Medicine

Jump directly to a section:

Office of Public Affairs


Alcohol and Driving

Driving under the influence of alcohol kills nearly 12,000 people in the United States annually.  Long-term heavy alcohol use can cause serious health conditions. 

Each year, in Illinois there are about 300 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 blood alcohol level at which drivers are considered intoxicated.

“In Illinois the BAL that becomes illegal is .08.  That’s pretty much generally across the United States these days.  For men that may take about four or five drinks to reach that.  And, for women, maybe three or four.  So women will become intoxicated or have a higher BAL sooner than men will.”

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 offers suggestions about drinking and driving.

“They can designate a driver.  They can decide to take a taxi home.  If your friends are drinking and driving, you can take away their keys.  If you are hosting a party, you have plenty there to eat, you offer beverages other than alcohol as well as an alternative.  And you make sure everybody leaves with a sober driver.”

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

Ruth Slottag