Education

Dangerous Double Shot: Drinking & Driving

The recent arrest of recording star Justin Bieber on Miami Beach was not a scripted reality television show. Bieber’s real-life drama and arrest for alleged drunk driving provides a sobering reminder about the dangers of mixing cars and alcohol, especially for teens and young adults, according to Gary Silverman, clinical supervisor at the South Miami Hospital Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center.

“In Justin Bieber, I see a young man who needs help. He is a kid in crisis. Other than the fame and the money, he is just like the other patients we work with. There are so many, many young men and women who are just like that. And that’s where it gets scary,” Mr. Silverman says.

Bieber’s case—still unfolding in court—has put the spotlight on drunk driving. The facts are sad, but the time is right: April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and the news is mixed. In the two decades since the creation of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the number of people killed in drunk driving accidents has been cut in half –  dropping from more than 21,000 fatalities a year to the current annual range of 10,000 to 11,000.

“We’re making progress, but drunk driving is still a tremendous, tremendous problem,” Mr. Silverman says. “It’s the No. 1 cause of preventable death among young people.”

Here are the facts:

How large is the problem? 

  • About 30 people die every day in the U.S. because of a crash involving a drunk driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
  • Accidents involving alcohol-impaired drivers cost more than $37 billion each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • Drunk driving accidents claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in 2012, roughly one fatality every 50 minutes, according to federal data.
  • Young adults, ages 21 -24 are responsible for more than one-third of all fatal crashes (about 34 percent), according to the CDC.  Adults, ages 25-34, are linked to about 30 percent of all fatal drunk driving crashes, with those ages 35 to 44 contributing to about 25 percent of the fatalities.    
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    Why are teens and young adults so vulnerable to drinking and driving? 

    The human brain is not fully formed until age 25, and there seems to be a lack of impulse control,” Mr. Silverman says.

    The immature brain can crave risky and thrill-seeking behaviors, including substance abuse and drag racing—two factors alleged to be involved in Bieber’s recent arrest.  And just like scenes from the popular movie series, The Fast and the Furious, there is an underground tradition of drag racing in South Florida, Mr. Silverman says.

     “Alcohol is often part of the activity,” he adds.

    Newfound freedoms, including a driver’s license and generous curfew hours, contribute to traffic accidents linked to alcohol, Mr. Silverman says, adding: “More than twice as many deaths from drunk driving occur on weekends.”

     

    What should parents do?

    Your five senses and gut feelings can help you detect alcohol abuse, he says. Here are key signs of alcohol abuse:

  • Odor of alcohol (The No. 1 telltale sign that alerts police during routine traffic stops).
  • Blood-shot eyes.
  • Behavioral changes and severe mood swings.
  • New peer groups.
  • Lower grades.
  • Dramatic changes in wardrobe or dressing styles. Girls looking to get into clubs and parties where alcohol is served may attempt to dress older, with a more seductive wardrobe. Both sexes may start wearing grungier clothes and garments promoting booze and drug use, Silverman says.
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    What about prevention?

    When it comes to discipline and limits, both parents—even if divorced—should be on the same page about parties, curfews and expectations, Mr. Silverman says. Family dinners are also important, as families that dine together regularly have fewer episodes of substance abuse in teens, he says.

    And open-door communications are very important. You want your child to feel comfortable enough to call you for a ride home rather than driving while drunk or getting into a car with a peer who plans to drive while intoxicated.

     

    Fortunately, Justin Bieber was arrested and hopefully taught a valuable lesson.  Some teens, Mr. Silverman warns, don’t get a second chance.

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