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Impaired Driving

Effects of Alcohol

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

This section looks at how drinking excessive amounts of alcohol affects certain important organs in your body in the short term.

Alcohol affects the brain more than it does any other area of the body.

Alcohol's Effects on the Brain

Research shows that alcohol affects the brain and the central nervous system more than it does any other area of the body. This organ is perhaps the most important one because it regulates several complex bodily functions such as circulation, breathing and digestion. The brain also controls the processing of information as well as your emotions and memory, which you need for complex tasks like driving. Any alcohol you drink is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and then heads to the brain. The alcohol that reaches the brain can cut off oxygen and kill brain cells. It slows down and impairs your reasoning and motor skills, which increases your reaction time.

It only takes a few drinks for alcohol to impair your memory. When you drink too much alcohol too quickly, it can result in a blackout. You will not become unconscious, but you will not be able to remember details of events that occurred during this period. Blackouts are most common in social drinkers. They often engage in binge drinking and drinking contests, where they drink a large amount of alcohol quickly. Even if you don't make it a habit to drink heavily, just one blackout episode can create a hazardous situation that you may not remember or even survive.

Alcohol's Effects on Vision

When alcohol has such a profound effect on the brain, it will also affect vision. Alcohol relaxes the muscles in the eyes when consumed and makes it more difficult to focus, which may result in blurred or double vision. Depth perception becomes a problem. You will also have more difficulty adapting to changes in light, such as darkness and glare from headlights coming from other vehicles. Contrast sensitivity, or the ability to see fine details or distinguish objects from one another, is reduced.

The result is that simple tasks become harder to perform. Driving, which is a complex set of tasks, becomes an adventure because people or objects on the road may be difficult to see or even overlooked, particularly at night or in adverse conditions. The eyes move less, which means less scanning of the road for hazards. This creates a problem with perceiving the distance and speed of other objects.

Vision problems caused by alcohol include blurred or double vision.

A 2004 study conducted by researchers from North Dakota State University found that depth perception as applied to moving objects is at least 4.5 times worse when the alcohol level gets close to 0.1%. This is just above the presumptive limit (.08%) at which a police officer may arrest you. At this level, you will find it difficult to judge the speed and distance of objects such as other vehicles while driving, making it harder for you to avoid them if they are about to hit you.

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