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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Binge Drinkers Incapable Of Determining Ability To Drive

An interesting study conducted at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) was recently published showing that, compared to moderate or social drinkers, binge drinkers seem to have a disconnect that prevents them from realizing when they have had too much to drink and, more dangerously, keeps them from realizing that it isn't safe to drive.

When the term binge drinking comes up, the image of an alcoholic going on a binge of non-stop drinking over several days is what usually comes to mind. The modern definition of binge drinking refers to the behavior of so many who nowadays drink with the goal of getting drunk as quickly as possible. This behavior is seen most often among young people. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about 90% of alcohol consumed by those under the age of 21 is in the form of binge drinking. While this is a major problem with underage and college age drinkers, binge drinking isn’t limited to those age groups.

The NKU study looked at 20 male and 20 female college students between the ages of 21 – 29. Of the participants, 24 identified themselves as binge drinkers and 16 were identified as non-binge drinkers. The participants attended two sessions in which they were given a moderate amount of alcohol or a placebo. Those who were consumed alcohol were given an amount that would take their blood alcohol content (BAC) to 0.08%, the amount considered to be legally intoxicated. After drinking, their performance was evaluated while performing simulated driving tasks. While all the participants who were given alcohol performed poorly in the driving tests, when each group was asked to evaluate their own performance, the binge drinkers rated their driving ability as greater than the non-binge drinkers. In other words, the binge drinkers felt they still had the ability to drive safely while the non-binge drinkers realized that they were in no condition to drive.

The study's authors feel that the binge drinkers suffer from some sort of disconnect or lack "an internal sedation cue" that prevents them from accurately assessing their intoxication level and their ability to drive. Binge drinkers who drink with the goal of getting drunk do a very bad job of determining just how intoxicated they really are.

It is felt that prevention programs where drinkers are given a breathalyzer exam upon leaving a bar may help in teaching a drinker just what 0.08% BAC feels like. Other alternatives to consider are lowering the legal BAC level for driving. Quite a few European countries have lowered the legal intoxication limit to 0.05% BAC.

The only good news stated by the study's author is that, while a small percentage of binge drinkers will go on to develop serious drinking problems, most will outgrow the desire to binge drink.

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