Summer is winding down, which means that you might be raising a glass or two to toast the last days of summer and welcome a new season. In a state where there are over 400 established breweries, and recreational marijuana use is legal, Colorado residents have a lot of options when it comes to kicking back and relaxing.
While it’s socially acceptable, and even encouraged, to get together with friends and celebrate with alcohol, there’s always the risk of indulging and going too far. When is too far? Let’s take a closer look at how alcohol and drug use, even when used recreationally, can affect the safety of others and personal health and well-being.
Driving Under the Influence in Denver
Driving under the influence of alcohol and other substances isn’t just a problem in Denver, it’s a major contributing factor in accidents statewide and at a national level. While DUI-related crashes have declined in decades, it’s still a prevalent issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), DUI-related accidents account for nearly 30 percent of annual accidents.
While it’s important to note that not all DUIs result in an accident, there’s always the risk when someone is operating their vehicle while under the influence. Let’s look at the most recent data on DUIs in the Denver area. According to the most recent data from the Denver Post, DUIs are on the rise in August compared to July, but down in 2019 than in 2018 around the same time of year.
There have been over 350 DUIs in Denver in 2019, which averages about 45 per month and 1.5 per day. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, there were 504 DUI-related accidents that resulted in injury or death throughout the state of Colorado in 2017.
The same year, there were 20 fatal DUI-related accidents in Denver County. Current data lumps together alcohol and drug use, so it’s difficult to determine which accidents were a result of alcohol use, drug use, or a combination of both.
The takeaway is that impaired accidents are still occurring and even if the results aren’t always deadly, the risk for accidents and deaths remains high.
Are You at Risk of a DUI-Related Accident?
In Colorado, the majority of drivers who receive DUIs or are involved in DUI-related accidents are young men under the age of 30. The Colorado Department of Public Safety reports that nearly 75 percent of defendants in DUI-related cases were men in their 20s with a history of prior offenses.
Even if you don’t fit the profile, every driver is at risk of a DUI-related accident. That one drink you planned on having at happy hour could turn into two or three. Drivers who end up with a DUI aren’t always problematic drinks, careless, or irresponsible. An accident, whether fatal or not, can happen in a split second, and if your judgment is impaired due to alcohol or drugs, the results can be far worse.
How Can You Tell if You’ve Had Enough?
Many drivers who are caught driving under the influence aren’t always sure how much they’ve had to consume. In many cases they’ve spent the evening out with friends, having a few drinks, eating dinner, listening to live music, and then the few drinks turn into more to keep the good mood and feeling going.
It’s important to remember that everybody metabolizes and “handles” alcohol and drugs differently. If you and your friend both drink 3 beers in three hours, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is likely to be different. One of you may feel “buzzed” while the other has slurred speech, but it’s crucial to note that you both are at risk for a DUI.
So, how do you calculate your BAC? There are dozens of apps and other online tools that are designed to help you get an idea. This BAC calculator is an excellent example of an online tool that can help you determine your BAC and give you more information about how much is too much.
Keep in mind that BAC tools are not always accurate, and they should not be the sole determining factor in whether or not you should get behind the wheel. It’s always safest to have a designated sober driver or make alternate transportation plans if you decide to drink alcohol or partake in recreational marijuana.
Beyond the Road: How Alcohol and Drugs Affect Your Mind and Body
Now that we’ve discussed DUIs and how they affect roadway safety, let’s take a closer look at how drug and alcohol use can affect your physical and mental well-being.
Many people assume that you need to have a dependency on drugs or alcohol for it to affect you. Alcohol use is popular and accepted, because it makes many social drinkers feel happier, less stressed, and find it easier to socialize. This “feel-good” effect occurs when alcohol releases endorphins.
As a social or “low risk” drinker who drinks no more than 7 drinks for females and 14 drinks for males in a week, alcohol use may have no long-term effects on your brain.
Scientific evidence suggests that people who drink excessively are more prone to dementia and other memory loss issues due to shrinkage in the brain. Even moderate drinking over time can shrink the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and reasoning. Depending on the type of drug you use, your brain can be affected similarly.
In short, drug and alcohol not only temporarily affect your judgment and response time, but it may have permanent and long-term effects.
Your body is also at risk when you use drugs and alcohol. You are more prone to falls and other injuries, and if you’re not careful with how much you’re consuming over a specific time period, you can also experience alcohol poisoning or an overdose. While many people live through drug and alcohol misuse (and overuse), it can affect major organs, and some damage may be irreversible.
If you are concerned about your alcohol or drug use, talk with your doctor. If you take prescription medications, be mindful of mixing with alcohol or other drugs. Whether you drink socially or regularly, remember that no amount of alcohol is considered safe when getting behind the wheel. Reduce your risk of an accident and a DUI conviction by playing it safe and finding a sober ride home.