Why Drinking and Driving is Dangerous: Alcohol’s Effect on your Central Nervous System

Drivers in Chicago know that drinking and driving is dangerous but few are able to articulate exactly why alcohol poses a problem. In truth, the effects of alcohol on the human body are complex and the ways they interact limits a driver’s ability to control a vehicle, steer, and make informed decisions.

Almost every part of what makes us human can be affected to some degree by alcohol consumption but when it comes to safe driving, the central nervous system takes one of the biggest hits. Alcohol can so effectively alter the processes of the central nervous system that it can turn the best driver in the world into an open danger to herself and those around her. But how?

Alcohol enters the body and begins to be metabolized immediately. It is a depressant and can have psychoactive effects on users which leads to its popularity here in Illinois and across the nation. Globally, alcohol is one of the most widely and heavily used drugs among people of all ages and its popularity dates back thousands of years.

Prior to the invention of the automobile, people who drank alcohol in excess rarely posed a threat to strangers. While the effects of booze may harm a user personally, that individual rarely had the opportunity to let his actions influence others, harm others, or otherwise cause damage beyond himself. By 2014, nearly 1/3 of all traffic-related deaths in the United States happened in an accident involving a drunk driver and nearly 10,000 people lost their lives in drunk driving collisions in that year alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As alcohol is processed by your body, it makes its way to your central nervous system and the headquarters of all your actions: your brain. Since alcohol is a depressant, it slows many bodily functions including those of the brain, making it harder to think, act, and speak. Alcohol makes any task involving coordination more difficult which means that simply walking, carrying objects, or even moving with a purpose can be a struggle for those who drink. When it comes to driving, a decrease in coordination makes maneuvering a steering wheel difficult. If an object appears in the roadway or traffic conditions change, a driver who is lacking coordination may not be able to pass a message from her brain to her arms quickly enough to allow her to move the wheel in an evasive manner, leading to a car accident or other crash. Drunk drivers often confuse the gas pedal for the brake pedal because they are not coordinated enough to use the precise pedal they want and this makes rear-end collisions likely, among others.

Alcohol also affects impulse control or the ability to resist certain behaviors. A sober driver understands that exceeding the speed limit, racing, or engaging in other risky behaviors are too dangerous and therefore avoids those activities. However, alcohol is known to remove some of a driver’s ability to control the impulse to engage in a reckless manner which makes them a danger to themselves and others.

A slowed reaction time is a hallmark of a drunk driver and is one of the reasons that drunk drivers cause so many crashes. Their inability to react quickly means that they cannot hit the brakes, stop for a red light, yield to a pedestrian, or otherwise act in an appropriate manner due to their intoxication. Further, while drunk driving will be presumed in Chicago if a motorist has a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher, all drivers should understand that they can be guilty of operating while intoxicated if their blood alcohol content is lower than the limit – simply being impaired by the level of alcohol in your system is enough to lead to legal consequences and liability.

In the long run, alcohol can shrink the frontal lobes of a brain, cause dependence among users, and claim the lives of those you love. If you see someone drinking, make sure you do your part to encourage them not to drive and if you cannot, alert the proper authorities immediately so that the motorist can be stopped before any harm happens. If you are injured in a drunk driving accident, consider speaking with a personal injury attorney to learn about your legal rights and options so that you can get the relief you deserve.

Prior Blog Entry:

The Dangers of a Chicago Right Hook Bicycle Accident, Chicago Car Accident Lawyers Blog, published August 23, 2016.


23 Effects of Alcohol on the Body, by Ann Pietrangelo, healthline.com, published June 30, 2014.

Impaired Driving: Get the Facts, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published April 15, 2016.

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