Health Beat with Dr. Alicia Arnold: How alcohol affects the body

During the holidays, a higher percentage of motor vehicle crash deaths involve drunk driving. In our Health Beat with Dr. Alicia Arnold, we discussed how alcohol affects the body.

Meghan Kulig: During the holidays a higher percentage of motor vehicle crash deaths involve drunk driving. What are the statistics for this time of year?

Dr. Arnold: In the few days surrounding Christmas and New Year’s Eve, an average of 340 lives are lost due to drunk driving. During major holiday periods, about 40 percent of fatal crashes involve drunk driving.

Meghan Kulig: Are the numbers increasing or decreasing?

Dr. Arnold: Last year the number of drunk driving deaths increased by almost 5 percent compared to 2011. The majority of these deaths occur with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 or higher, which is almost twice the legal limit.

Meghan Kulig: How is blood alcohol concentration calculated?

Dr. Arnold: It is the amount of alcohol in your blood. It’s the weight of the alcohol in a certain volume of blood. It may be detected about a half an hour after you’ve started drinking and can continue to rise even after you stop drinking.

Meghan Kulig: What factors affect how quickly your blood alcohol concentration rises?

Dr. Arnold: It’s based on a number of factors such as gender, weight, and how quickly you are consuming the alcohol. For example, for a small framed woman, just one or two drinks could significantly impair driving skills or even be above the legal limit. Remember that your ability to drive safely is compromised before you are exhibiting obvious signs of being drunk.

Meghan Kulig: Some people may be wondering if there is anything you can do to speed up the rate your body metabolizes alcohol?

Dr. Arnold: Only time reduces the amount of alcohol in your body. Coffee or some fresh air may make you feel more awake, but do not sober you up. Food slows your body’s absorption of alcohol, but won’t reduce the alcohol already in your blood.

Meghan Kulig: What should people do to protect themselves?

Dr. Arnold: Use a designated driver or have a plan such as a taxi to take you home. Stay alert for other drivers who may be impaired. Always wear your seatbelt; not only is it required by law, but it is vitally important for your safety if your car is hit by a drunk driver.

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