THE DRINK-DRIVE PSYCHE
Drinking is an understandable phenomenon, after all responsible social drinking to relax or to tranquillize one self from daily anxieties or a little bit of merriment etc. may be an acceptable etiquette but ‘drink driving’ inspires scorn and ‘drink driving’ induced accidents, absolutely reprehensible if the driver is alive to experience this comment.
6680 ‘drink drive’ accidents happened in Britain in 2012 resulting in 230 deaths and 1210 serious injuries. Well, can be calibrated as an improvement from 1979, which recorded 1640 deaths but not to the grieving families of these 230. 10322 deaths occurred in the US in 2012 due to ‘drink driving.’
Similar statistics will present itself world over barring 17 countries, the likes of Qatar, Mali, Pakistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, UAE and others who have alcohol prohibition enforced. About half of the countries in the world don’t have reliable data on alcohol related traffic accidents. 1.24 million die each year due to road accidents and another 20 to 30 million sustain non-fatal injuries hence apart from ‘drink driving’, there are bigger challenges to keep the road safe but in this discussion let me restrain the scope to ‘drink driving’ and the cognitive aspects associated with drinking both of which are within our control.
WHY DO PEOPLE DRINK
The ritual of drinking particularly in the western world generally accompanies an invitation to dinner, party, concert, theatre, sport, professional or any social event. The very thought liven up the evening in anticipation. Why? Is it the habitual taste of exquisite wine, whiskey, vodka, gin, rum, beer, brandy and respective preferences or is there something beyond taste and refinement of the brew/vintage/maturation. From a behavioural standpoint, people are on guard all the time, defense mechanisms are up and one is unable to find the exuberant self within, the healing bouts of laughter, the lightness in the head, the courage to make the point, break into a dance & song, debate without reticence, basically unable to find the wild abandon that they so desperately seek in order to deal with their environment hence squarely consign the task to alcohol to attain these.
Down a few pegs and out goes inhibitions ushering in animated talk. From mild loss of inhibitions at a social event or football match to considerable loss of restraint as in a dance party to arrant loss of control as in a heavy metal concert, alcohol ingestion does cater to each category invoking varying energy levels. To limit the drinking instances would be misappropriation. People drink to all occasions be it Special dates (Valentine’s, anniversary, birthday, New Year, Christmas, Thanksgiving), bridal shower, anxiety & despair (failure, loss, bereavement), wedding, divorce, celebration, euphoria, diplomatic drink, war, high-school prom after-party, made redundant, graduation, bachelor party, office Christmas party, promotion, boredom, stress basically any constructed context. Yes there are compelling arguments to such indulgence but the commonality amongst these as to why people drink is the colossal mistrust on one’s own faculties to produce the desired behavioural change hence the elbow outreach for that drink.
Take football for instance, the perception is that 90 minutes of sober football cheering will not inspire a struggling team. The team needs robust support, perhaps well-augmented chants in synchronicity that could bring extra energy into those tired calf muscles of the players. Alcohol is considered as a catalyst in attaining the altered state that brings about this harmonized chant and noise levels. Fans are allowed to drink inside the stadium however the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol, Act 1985) restricts England and Wales football supporters from consuming alcohol ‘In view of the pitch’ meaning no alcohol in their seats, perhaps to curb probability of violence due to public disorder. Anyway the point is, certain occasions demand a boost in enthusiasm levels and alcohol does seem to provide this upgrade.
What about Michael McIntyre show at say O2 Arena, London? Isn’t this a nice relaxing stand up comedy show? Why do people drink here? Michael’s gags are hilarious enough even for the sober but hilarity and laughter is accentuated with a peg or two. Alcohol seem to irretrievably take one beyond the serious self with which one came in for the evening. Comedy show, a place where people bring their bodies and mind’s to be tickled pink and inebriated! So regardless of the nature of any event, it doesn’t require startling boldness to admit that alcohol does bring about some exhilaration. Adults, tired with their mature, mellow and cultivated behaviour want to forget themselves for a while and a few shots of liquor induce the infantilizing behaviour in themselves under the pretense of which, they can indulge in temporary dissociative states, wild laughter and uninhibited conversation. This is also one amidst myriad reasons people love to drink. Drinking has therefore become a social habit and people, its slavish hostage.
Teenagers as they transition in their emotional and physical state from adolescence to young adults, accost identity challenges. Assertion of independence, personality, freedom and social significance become important to them in this phase. Combined with the spirit of enterprise, risk taking, adventure and peer pressure, they want to experiment with substances that take them to extreme sensations. The rudiments of drinking begin here and their recently acquired mobility (car, motorbike) exacerbate the ‘drink drive’ phenomenon. Teenage drivers and people in the age group of 21 to 25 years have a higher propensity to ‘drink drive’ accidents. 42 countries apply BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) limits of 0.02 g/dl (20mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood) or less among young and novice drivers. Their driving dexterity in comparison to experienced drivers is lower even when these youngsters are sober hence they driving under alcohol influence only aggravates the accident probability. Most youngsters remain intrepid and do not perceive the risks associated with ‘drink driving’ as they feel it has only happened to others hence their sense of invincibility. After a tipsy evening, they don’t want to leave their cars behind. They are either embarrassed to ask for a lift or want to assert on their peers, their ability to drive steadfastly.
WHAT DOES ALCOHOL DO TO THE BODY
The inebriate seeks to compromise sharpness of the brain to attain the desired state; a little dullness induced voluntarily to lose one’s inhibitions. CNS (Central Nervous System) comprises the 12-ounce brain & the spinal cord and is responsible for motor control, memory, reasoning, perception, vision, hearing, movement, emotion, judgment, reaction time and other functions. Alcohol is a serious depressant of the CNS and slows down the nerve cells. The tippler, for a paltry £ 10 in the UK is able to guzzle enough alcohol to depress the CNS. Subhash Pandey, PhD, a neuroscientist at the University of Illinois, Chicago had done interesting experiments on rats and concludes that alcohol drinkers (when not ingested with alcohol) are low in CREB (cAMP response element-binding protein) that results in anxiety hence their attachment to alcohol for a CREB protein boost. Alcohol triggers the delivery of CREB protein in the brain that decreases anxiety and hence the concomitant feeling of lightness. Highly creative work, daily exercise, passionate pursuit of a mission all these can also provide CREB protein boost but these take time and effort hence the ardent subscription to alcohol, a panacea for attainment of quick desired behaviour albeit an expensive and toxic approach. Anti-depressants (Prozac, Cipramil, Seroxat, Cymbalta, etc.) that increases the level of neurotransmitters (serotonin, noradrenaline) in the brain consequently improving mood and emotion also does the trick but has side effects.
Fat, carbohydrates and proteins are important requisites for the body and the body stores it but alcohol is not stored hence metabolized on priority. The liver, by virtue of its allocated task to purge the body of toxins, presses itself into service with alacrity as soon as alcohol is ingested however the liver can only do so much hence the balance alcohol makes its way into the bloodstream. Other nutrients need to be broken down before the body can absorb it but alcohol is absorbed as it is and needs to be detoxified from the blood. The process of oxidation does this task. This oxidation task by the liver is only successful if mild to moderate units of alcohol is consumed but with Session drinking, Speed drinking and Binge Drinking there is no chance of expunging the alcohol from the system without commensurate replenish time elapsing. Drinking faster than the processing capacity of the liver is the trick here to remain drunk and surprisingly most sane minds exercise this option with a few of them experiencing addiction. Such are the detriments of an evening of indulgence and it is under such conditions that one attempts to remain adept behind the wheels or nurse thoughts about driving safely!
WHAT ARE THE CONTROLLING MEASURES
In England the permissible BAC limit is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. From December 2014, Scotland reduced its BAC limit from 80 to 50 mg per 100 ml of blood meaning an average man can consume under a pint of beer or large glass of wine and women can consume half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine before he/she intends to drive. US has 80 mg, Germany 50 mg, France 50 mg, India, Japan have 30 mg, Estonia, Poland have 20 mg. How much lower can one enforce. Brazil surprisingly has 0 mg, zero tolerance policy! United States has a ‘No Tolerance Policy’ and seeks ‘No Alcohol’ in the blood stream whilst behind the wheel for drivers less than 21 years. France due to its stringent measures with stricter speed limits, penalties etc. has significantly curbed drunk driving. If you get caught once, the car is confiscated. If you are caught twice, an ignition test is attached to the vehicle which will allow the starter to function only if BAC level is permissible. Random breath tests are on the rise and the fear of being apprehended is a strong deterrent.
Ignition interlocking devices are being installed on the dashboard of cars and the driver, prior to starting the car, is needed to exhale into it and progressively countries are adopting it. Whilst such punitive measures does dissuade ‘drink driving’, the world -statistics continue to present alarming data hence regulation need to be tighter. Yes absolute prohibition with 0 mg per 100 ml is the safest and perhaps the world eventually will be forced to take this route of conformity. This may sound the death knell for pubs and restaurants as it will inhibit people from driving to the pubs or will compel one partner to remain sober but before further death statistics invoke the need to incorporate such drastic measures of zero tolerance policies, can’t we remain respectful to the present stipulation and freedom provided by behaving responsibly. More than micromanaging, if each individual understands his/her social obligation to fellow travellers on the road and to themselves, such social awareness can do wonders in eradicating ‘drink induced’ accidents.
Whilst gentle responsible social drinking illuminates the logic of the need to enjoy an evening, it is the intolerance to ‘drink driving’ that I attempt to exemplify in this blog. In May 2007 in Las Vegas a 19-year old intoxicated man caused an accident that killed 5 family members. The youngest victim was 7 months old and the oldest, the mother (32 years of age). Sept. 1999, Austin, Texas another intoxicated 18-year old man crashed into 3 cars, killed two people and left a young woman with severe burns all over. She had to go through 100 surgeries, years of physical therapy and she had the benevolence to forgive the driver. I have condensed it to two cases here but there are hundred’s of such grotesque incidents which are impervious to the next drunk driver who nonchalantly totters and staggers from the pub to his/her car to turn the ignition key that may perhaps invoke the probability of yet another accident. Ask the families of the above victims and one will get the endorsement for zero tolerance policy for alcohol & driving. Sure, Jim Morrison (Doors) lyrics says, ‘I woke up this morning and got myself a beer’ but there are others who wake up with irreducible trauma hence apart from keeping our eyes on the road and hands upon the wheel, it is important to do so stone sober and with absolute attention.