Ruth Bowles is the Executive Director of the Rockland Council on Alcoholism and other Drug Dependence and in this episode we discuss alcohol, a substance that causes a significant number traffic deaths as well as create problems for individuals, families, businesses, and communities.
Now in its 28th year, April is recognized as Alcohol Awareness Month. During April, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) and other organizations work to increase public awareness and understanding, reduce the stigma, and encourage local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues.
Most people can have a drink or two with friends or a glass of wine with dinner without consequences. However, for a significant percentage of the population, alcohol-dependence, sometimes called alcoholism, is a serious concern and having even one drink results in a downward spiral. For an alcoholic, “One drink is too many, a thousand never enough.
Alcohol and Crime
Alcohol has a substantial role in traffic fatalities: one-third of all traffic fatalities are the result of impaired driving. Alcohol is also a major factor in many other crimes. Research surveys have found that:
- 5.3 million adults − 36% of those under correctional supervision at the time of the survey − were drinking at the time of the commission of their criminal activity.
- 40% of state prisoners convicted of violent crimes were under the influence of alcohol at the time of their offense − the more violent the crime, the greater the likelihood that alcohol was involved.
- 25% of state prisoners given a standard questionnaire to screen for alcoholism tested positive.
Alcohol problems are not limited to the criminal justice system. In the work place, workers with alcohol problems are 2.7 times more likely than workers without a drinking problem to have injury-related absences. Additionally, one-fifth of workers and managers in a variety of professions report that a co-worker’s on-the-job and off-the-job drinking jeopardized their work effort and personal safety.
Becoming an alcoholic does not happen over night. A person builds up a tolerance over time, and then possibly abuses alcohol before becoming alcohol-dependent. Even then, there are a number of factors that come into play to become an alcoholic. Once the addiction takes over, it almost becomes more important to drink than to breath. Becoming an alcoholic happens over time; getting into recovery also takes time.
Addiction is a Brain Disease
Alcohol Addiction is a brain disease. Brain scans now show just how much a person’s brain changes once they become addicted. Young or old, the brain is significantly impacted. Once in recovery, the brain can partially heal, but like chronic diseases, any recovery is a life-long struggle.
In fact, relapse rates of addiction and/or alcoholism are similar to other chronic diseases, such as Hypertension or Asthma. Take the right steps and you can live a healthy life, but it is a day-in-day-out battle to not relapse. Unfortunately, there is 50-70% chance that a person with Hypertension or Asthma will relapse. Just like those chronic diseases, people suffering alcoholism may slip up and relapse. Someone that has a drug addiction, such as alcoholism, has a 40-60% chance of relapse.
What is important after a relapse occurs is what happens afterwards. Do they take the next steps for recovery? Treatment can play an important role in finding the right steps to understand addiction, and learn potential triggers. A great support group during and after treatment for someone suffering the disease of alcoholism is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Alcohol Awareness Month
The theme for Alcohol Awareness Month is: Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow. During April there will be a number of local, state and national events aimed at educating people about the treatment and prevention of alcoholism. Recognizing that our youth are our hope for a better tomorrow, many of the activities will focus on the dangers of underage drinking. An integral part of Alcohol Awareness Month is Alcohol-Free Weekend (April 4-6, 2014). During this 72-hour period, everyone is encouraged to remain alcohol-free and learn more about the issues of alcoholism.
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD)
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- National Partnership on Alcohol and Misuse and Crime (NPAMC)
- Rockland Council on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependence
 The Rockland Council on Alcoholism and other Drug Dependence is an affiliate of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
 “One drink is too many, and a thousand not enough” is an AA saying that refers to someone who is sober, but returns to his or her bad habits by relapsing. Having just one drink is the start of a backslide into addiction, because no amount of alcohol will satisfy an alcoholic’s cravings.
The Honorable Peggy Hora, international expert on Drug Treatment Courts, including DWI (Driving While Impaired/Intoxicated) Courts, discusses what DWI Courts are and why they are needed to reduce impaired driving by substance-addicted individuals.
Impaired driving kills. The answer to ending impaired driving is: Stop drinking and driving. While a simple statement, the solution is far from effortless. Because a broad spectrum of individuals are arrested for DWI, different responses are required. In the United States, two-thirds of those arrested will not repeat the crime of impaired driving. The arrest and conviction are sufficient wake-up calls. However, some individuals are addicted to alcohol or other drugs, and the traditional approaches do not work. They continue to drink, then drive, to be arrested and convicted. It becomes an unending cycle, as jail or prison does not change their behavior. For this specific group of offenders, a different approach is needed. That different approach is a DWI Court.
Format of a DWI Court
DWI Courts are different from traditional courts. Based on the Drug Court model, DWI Courts hold repeat DWI offenders accountable and get them to become law abiding citizens by using long-term treatment and intensive supervision. In other words, DWI Courts go after the root cause, the addiction, by providing a comprehensive approach.
DWI Courts are team-oriented, with a Judge as the leader of the team. Also represented on the team are:
- Defense counsel
- Treatment provider
- Court Coordinator
- Probation officer, and
- Law enforcement officer.
Using treatment to address the why, the court uses its authority to help ensure that the person follows through by attending all treatment sessions, providing frequent and random samples for alcohol and drug testing, meeting with the judge on a regular basis, and following through with any other court orders specific to the individual (attending school, looking for a job, etc). Everyone on the team is focused on making sure the offender complies with the court’s requirements.
If an offender fails to comply, there are swift and certain consequences that increase in severity if the defendant continues to fail. And, if a person is doing everything correctly, and following the court’s orders – there are incentives or positive responses, including applause, praise, or even small gift cards. The importance of positive responses should not be underestimated, because over the long-term they are more effective in changing a person’s behavior than using negative-only responses.
Change is Hard
During this episode the Traffic Safety Guy also discusses the difficulties of changing a particular behavior. Most people forget that change is hard. It takes focus and continued effort to change a past habit. Many people make New Year’s resolutions, but very few are successful in the endeavor. Others no longer bother to make a resolution because of past failures. Now, add in an addiction to a chemical substance, especially one as socially acceptable as alcohol, and a behavioral change becomes even more difficult. But with a team of supporters holding a person accountable and always recognizing the positive efforts, change is possible.
DWI Courts are changing individuals—one person at a time—for a lifetime. And that is change worth understanding and supporting.
Have you seen a DWI Court? What did you think?
- National Center for DWI Courts (NCDC)
- National Association for Drug Court Professionals (NADCP)
- Global Centre for Drug Treatment Courts
- Map to Locate Drug/DWI Courts
- 10 Guiding Principles of DWI Courts
- NTSB Report: Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving
Mike Brown is the Chief of the Impaired Driving and Occupant Protection Division at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a former Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol. In his current position, he is responsible for coordinating the United State’s policy and programs concerning impaired driving prevention activities and strategies to improve occupant protection. During this episode we discuss why December is an important month to remind everyone to not drink and drive and what is being done to prevent impaired driving across the country.
In many parts of the world, the month of December is a time to celebrate the holiday season; between Hanukkah, Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve, it is a virtual cornucopia of festivities. For some people, these festivities mean celebrating with family and friends, which at times includes alcohol—and that is when it can get deadly.
December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month
On November 29th, President Obama declared December 2013 to be National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. NHTSA will be extremely active in December working with its partners everywhere, promoting the messages of ‘Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving’ and ‘Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.’
In the United States, 760 people lost their lives from impaired driving during December of 2011, with a total of 4,169 in the December months from 2007 to 2011. While impaired driving happens all year ‘round, the holiday season is a particularly dangerous time. Because of these devastating facts, law enforcement will be out in force cracking down on impaired drivers from December 17, 2013 through January 1, 2014.
Impaired Driving from Other Drugs
Alcohol is not the only drug that causes impaired driving. Other drugs are playing an increasingly deadly role. From research done by NHTSA, of the drivers tested for alcohol and other drugs, nearly 16% were positive for a drug other than alcohol. This is not to say that everyone was using an illegal drug. Prescription and over-the-counter medications were found as well. It is essential to remember that impaired driving can also occur from medications, both prescription and over-the-counter. That is why we must understand how any medication may impact the person taking it or interact with other medication being taken.
Make Plans Beforehand
Even one drink can impair someone’s judgment and increase the risk of getting arrested for impaired driving, or worse, killing someone. That is why it is important to make plans before heading out for the evening. Easy plans include:
- Designating a sober driver before the party begins
- Planning to call a taxi or using public transportation
- Making plans to stay where you are drinking
If hosting a party, stop serving alcohol as the evening wears on, and be responsible—friends don’t let friends drive after drinking.
One option that more communities are developing is free cab rides home. Called SoberRide in the Washington, DC area, the program is typically funded through sponsors and donations, and works with local cab companies to provide impaired adults (over the age of 21) cab rides home. In many locations the ride is free. WRAP (Washington Regional Alcohol Program) organizes the DC SoberRide program. To see a list of programs nationwide, click here.
Celebrate the Holiday Season Safely
It is the Holiday Season, a time to celebrate with family and friends. It is not a time to stop thinking. It is not a time to drink and drive. Take the time to plan ahead. Decide where to go with family or friends. Choose which celebrations to attend. Then make plans on how to get home safely. It is the Holiday Season—a time to make plans to be safe, for one and all.
What plans have you made for a safe holiday season? Let me know in the comments below.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
- NHTSA Traffic Safety Marketing
- Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) – 2013 National Drug Control Strategy
- Sober Rides – National Listing
- Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP)
- 2011 Impaired Driving Numbers
- 2012 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview
- 2013 NHTSA Holiday Campaign Fact Sheet
- National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers (2007)
- Presidential Proclamation – December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month
- Highway to Safety Podcast—Episode 4: Drugged Driving
Impaired driving has been a part of our culture for over a century, with nearly 10,000 people now killed annually. Can we stop it, once and for all, so that no one else is killed by an impaired driver?
Dr. Mark Rosekind, NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) Board Member, is a leading expert on the steps to take to end impaired driving. In this episode, Dr. Rosekind provides an overview of NTSB’s 19 research-based recommendations to achieve that goal. These recommendations cover a wide variety of perspectives—everything from stopping the social drinker from taking the risk of driving after drinking, to getting the repeat DWI (Driving While Impaired) offender to change his or her behavior. The recommendations also look at a number of actions and tools that can be used in this critical effort, such as ignition interlocks, DWI courts, and sobriety checkpoints. This conversation with Dr. Rosekind examines some of these topics in detail, including:
- What ignition interlocks are and the critical role they play
- The DADSS program (The car of the future?)
- Reducing the BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) from .08% to .05%, and
- DWI Courts for the repeat DWI offender
Laying out the steps NTSB took to develop these recommendations, and detailing what several of them mean, Dr. Rosekind provides a comprehensive discussion on how we can end impaired driving. At the end of our conversation, Dr. Rosekind provides his suggestions on what we as individuals can do to make a difference and save lives.
Also during this episode, I talk about why we need a recommitment to stopping impaired driving, and an understanding what a .08% BAC means, referencing the B4U Drink Educator.
This podcast was also video-recorded. You can watch some of the clips from this conversation by going to the Videos page on this website.