There is an increasing amount of focus on the effects of alcohol impairment behind the wheel due to the alarming number of fatalities that occur each year. According to the Illinois DUI Fact Book, alcohol-related crashes killed more than 300 people in 2013. Chicago car accident attorneys know that some of these crashes involve older impaired drivers.
Awareness and advocacy groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers work to dispel myths about alcohol and promote safer driving behaviors. Many of these awareness campaigns focus on the fact that alcohol has stronger effects on young drivers. However, drivers between the ages of 16 and 24 are not the only ones with an increased risk for alcohol impairment. According to American Family Physician, alcohol use by older adults in the U.S. may be underestimated.
Alcohol and seniors
In 2010, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that almost 40 percent of adults over the age of 65 drink alcohol. Any individual can develop a problem with alcohol, but older adults may not be aware that their bodies are no longer able to process their favorite beverages in the same way. Chicago car accident attorneys may well be concerned about the hazards this can create when these seniors get behind the wheel.
According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a person over the age of 65 who has never had a drinking problem should not exceed one alcoholic drink per day. A standard drink contains about 1.2 tablespoons of ethanol, which is the chemical name for pure alcohol. This is typically found in 12 ounces of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
There are many biological reasons that alcohol affects seniors more than younger adults. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that, as people age, their bodies lose the ability to effectively break down alcohol, so it remains in the bloodstream much longer.
A person’s body processes alcohol differently than other foods or drinks in that alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream. Chicago car accident attorneys understand that this occurs at a different rate for each individual, although most charts estimate that it typically takes about an hour. Once in the blood vessels, the alcohol is distributed to cells everywhere in the body. As the liver metabolizes it, the alcohol is removed from the system.
If an individual’s liver is not functioning at full capacity, the alcohol may not be processed or expelled at a normal rate. Another factor is that there is less water in the older body. One drink for an individual over 65 will create a higher blood alcohol content than for a younger person drinking the same amount.
Alcohol and medication
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014 statistics indicate that among adults over the age of 65, about 90 percent take at least one prescription medication. More than 65 percent take three or more at any given time. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that people who are taking some prescription or over-the-counter medications should abstain from alcohol completely.
Many drugs increase the effects of alcohol on the body. Judgment, awareness and reaction time can be more compromised, while side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness become more prominent factors. A drug’s negative interactions with alcohol can occur even when the medication is taken in the morning and the alcohol is drunk several hours later.
Causes of increased drinking in older adults
According to the National Institutes of Health, many life events that older adults commonly face are considered risk factors that could lead to a problem with alcohol. These risk factors include the following:
- Sleep problems
- Loss of a spouse
A traumatic or life-changing event is not the only risk factor for an alcohol problem that seniors face. Some people merely continue the same moderate drinking habits they had when they were younger, and may not notice that their tolerance has gone down.
Alcohol effects and addiction
Alcohol can affect many of the body’s systems over time, including the liver and the heart. Heavy drinkers increase their risks of certain cancers, immune system disorders and muscle and bone damage. When an individual already has a health condition such as diabetes, depression or high blood pressure, the alcohol use can exacerbate the issue.
When older adults are aware of their vulnerability and increased risk, but find it difficult to make the decision to cut back, they may have developed an unhealthy dependence on alcohol. Substance abuse and addiction professionals encourage people to evaluate their drinking habits to determine whether a problem has developed. If an individual consistently goes over self-imposed limits or experiences an internal struggle over the desire to cut back, it may be time to seek help.
Any alcohol increases crash risks
Although one drink per day may be a relatively safe amount for physically healthy older adults, no amount of alcohol is ever safe when an individual is planning to drive. Anyone who takes one drink experiences impaired judgment and slower reaction times. More awareness campaigns focusing on the effects of alcohol on different age groups may help reduce the number of accidents each year.
When older adults know about the increased risks they pose by getting behind the wheel after drinking, the choice to drink and drive is inexcusable. An individual who has suffered as a result of a crash caused by a drunk driver may have recourse to hold that person accountable. Chicago car accident attorneys are available to discuss options and may be able to help victims obtain compensation.