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Feeling of Drunkenness Disappears Long Before BAC Levels Return to Normal

One of the biggest factors in drinking and driving is a person’s belief that they have recovered enough after consuming alcohol to get behind the wheel of a car. A study conducted by Peter J. Snyder, PhD, vice president of research for Lifespan, took a closer look at the impact alcohol has on an individual’s ability to reason and solve problems. This affect may offer some insight into why the individual decides they are sober enough to drive a car long before their blood alcohol level has reached a safe point. As 17,000 American lives are sacrificed to drunk driving every year – which is equal to one death every 30 minutes – it is important to continue to study the phenomenon of drunk driving to better understand why it continues to happen, especially given the known risks. Known factors surrounding alcohol and its affect on the typical human being show that a 0.02 increase in blood alcohol concentration can double the relative risk of a crash in a motor vehicle among male individuals aged 16 to 20. That risk increases almost 52 times when the blood alcohol content reaches between 0.08 percent and 0.10 percent – which is the legal limit in many states in the country. To conduct this study, Snyder and his team created a test that would examine rising and declining levels of BAC and evaluate the impact on functions that are necessary for safe driving. Using a placebo-controlled group, the researchers were able to compare the subjective feelings of drunkenness and its impact on an individual’s ability to navigate a hidden maze learning task. In this process, researchers determined that executive functions do not recover as quickly for someone under the influence of alcohol. Instead, the subjective feeling that the individual is drunk recovers more quickly. This subjective feeling does not correspond with the actual recovery when taking into account the higher order executive functions. This research process included examining individuals who consumed alcoholic drinks over an 8-hour period to bring their blood alcohol concentration to 0.10 percent and then return to a normal level. Throughout the increases and decreases in BAC over the course of the 8 hours, individuals were asked to perform a hidden maze learning test. Without alcohol, the normal individual would make few mistakes in the maze and when they did, it was generally due to a failure to follow simple rules. With rising BAC levels, mistakes increased dramatically. And, as BAC levels declined, the feeling of drunkenness disappeared long before normal levels were reached. Demonstrating this marked difference between BAC levels and a perception of drunkenness could be a key element in encouraging individuals to always arrange for a designated driver. Alcohol is an impairing substance, one that distorts reality for some time. When lives are at stake, it is worth fighting with oneself over sobriety.

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