The Do’s and Don’t of Drinking and Driving and the H.E.A.L. Strategy

Gina Eubank – America’s Favorite Pharmacist

Drinking and driving causes death and destruction on our highways every day.  Despite strong campaigns to stop DUI, drunk driving continues to take lives and cause serious injury to innocent victims.

Taking steps to prevent DUI is one of the most responsible things you can do.  Fortunately, the H.E.A.L. Strategy allows you to monitor your alcohol intake and control it so that you can enjoy yourself and still remain a responsible driver.

Alcohol and Driving Do Not Mix

In 2013, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 10,076 people were killed in alcohol-impaired- driving crashes.  An average of one alcohol-impaired-driving fatality occurred every 52 minutes that year, accounting for 31 percent of the total motor vehicle traffic fatalities in the United States.

Drivers are considered to be alcohol-impaired when their blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) are .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher. Thus, any fatal crash involving a driver with a BAC of .08 or higher is considered to be an alcohol-impaired-driving crash.

Of the 10,076 people who died in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes in 2013, 6,515 or 65 percent were drivers with BACs of .08 or higher. The remaining fatalities consisted of 2,724 motor vehicle occupants, which accounted for 27 of fatalities, and 837 non-occupants or eight percent of the total.

This is Your Body on Alcohol

Alcohol enters your bloodstream as soon as you take your first sip. Alcohol’s immediate effects can appear within about 10 minutes. As you drink, you increase your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level, which is the amount of alcohol present in your bloodstream.  The higher your BAC, the more impaired you become by alcohol’s effects.

Drinking too much alcohol affects many parts of the body. It can be especially harmful to the liver, the organ that metabolizes or breaks down alcohol and other harmful substances. People who drink heavily for a long time can develop diseases such as liver inflammation or alcoholic hepatitis.  They can also develop severe liver scarring, known as cirrhosis. Alcohol-related liver disease can eventually cause death.

Alcohol not broken down by the liver goes to the rest of the body, including the brain. Alcohol can affect parts of the brain that control movement, speech, judgment, and memory. These effects lead to the familiar signs of drunkenness: difficulty walking, slurred speech, memory lapses, and impulsive behavior. Long-term heavy drinking can shrink the frontal lobes of the brain, impairing thinking skills.

The liver and brain are not the only organs affected by drinking.  Your kidneys filter harmful substances from your blood. One of these substances is alcohol. Alcohol can cause changes in the function of the kidneys and make them less able to filter your blood. In addition to filtering blood, your kidneys do many other important jobs. One of these jobs is keeping the right amount of water in your body. Alcohol affects the ability of your kidneys to do this. When alcohol dehydrates or dries out the body, the drying effect can affect the normal function of cells and organs, including the kidneys.

Too much alcohol can also affect your blood pressure. People who drink too much are more likely to have high blood pressure, and medications for high blood pressure can be affected by alcohol. High blood pressure is a common cause of kidney disease. More than two drinks a day can increase your chance of having high blood pressure.

How Much Is One Drink?

We live in a society where servings of food and drinks are very large.  In fact, most food service establishments advertise the large size of their portions.  This can include alcoholic beverages, so it is important to understand what is meant by the term “one drink.”

When experts talk about one drink, they are talking about one 12-ounce bottle of beer, one five-ounce glass of wine or one 1.5-ounce shot of “hard liquor.”

Having more than three drinks in a day or more than seven per week for women, and more than four drinks in a day or more than 14 per week for men is considered “heavy” drinking.

Let me repeat that:  three drinks a day for a woman and four drinks a day for men is considered “heavy drinking.”

Binge drinking is the most common pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume five or more drinks, and when women consume four or more drinks, in about two hours.

The H.E.A.L Strategy

The H.E.A.L. Strategy was developed to allow people to enjoy alcohol and partake in celebration without endangering their health or the safety of others on the road. A designated driver is always a great strategy; in addition, the option to not drink is always an available choice. However, for those who want to drink in a very moderate way, the H.E.A.L. Strategy may help you keep yourself safe as well as others.

It is important to remember that every person’s tolerance for alcohol is different.  You should always drink less than you think you can handle and slow down or stop if you feel even slightly impaired.  Time is the only thing that will allow your body to “catch up” to alcohol consumption, so the sooner you stop drinking the sooner your body will adjust.

The goal of the H.E.A.L. Strategy is to keep you and others safe.  The important elements of the H.E.A.L. Strategy: Hydrate, Eat, Awareness and Limit.

Hydrate refers to drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids, preferably water and non-caffeinated drinks. Drinks with caffeine also cause dehydration and compound the effects of alcohol on the kidneys and their ability to filter the body’s blood. Be sure to hydrate before, during, and after drinking alcohol. I recommend half a liter prior to going out and alternating during the evening: for every one drink, have two waters. Many people will have a water with a twist of lime or lemon and some add a splash of cranberry. This is also helpful for people who are exposed to peer pressure:  it will appear that they are having a mixed drink, when in reality it is simply water with a twist of lime and splash of cranberry.

Eating before and during alcohol consumption is also crucial. Food slows down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream and helps keep your BAC within acceptable limits. Eating does not give you the green light to binge drink, however.

Awareness of how much alcohol you are actually consuming is crucial in managing drinking.  Many people are unaware how often their glasses are refilled when they are partially full or how many drinks they have actually consumed, particularly if someone else is buying.

Limit means to decide on a hard halt limit to the number of drinks you are going to consume that night prior to going out. This will assist you in monitoring your alcohol consumption and staying with in safe limits.  It is important to remember that three drinks for women and four for men are considered HEAVY drinking, according to the National Institute of Health.  This is not good for your body, so you should set your limit number below the HEAVY drinking threshold.

Also, please take into account any medication you may be taking that could enhance the effects of alcohol. Please discuss with your doctor or pharmacist to see if you are on a medication or have a medical condition that prohibits you from having any alcohol. If in doubt, do not drink.

If you find yourself in a situation where you have consumed too much alcohol, have a seat, drink some water and call a loved one or a cab. Also, be sure and let the bar or restaurant know that you have had too much to drink. You would be amazed how many people extend a helping hand to help keep you safe and the other people on the road safe.

Visit for information on Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and have a safe and enjoyable time every time you go out!