Alcohol and driving don’t mix

YOU insisted on driving because you only had a few drinks. Days later you wake up in a hospital. Suddenly you remember a crash scene. You were trapped in your vehicle and your family was scattered around the area. You later find out that your child died in the collision.

This is one of several ways your future could change for the worse … it could also end with you killing more innocent people, you facing jail time or even you losing your life in a crash as well. So just few drinks… is it worth it?

You can try and debate it now, you can explain how well you handle your alcohol and you can also say you know what you are doing… none of this will matter when either you or someone else dies.

Dr Robyn Holgate, ER24 CEO said: “In South Africa, the legal limit is a breath alcohol content of 0.24mg per 1,000ml, or a blood alcohol limit of 0.05g per 100ml. The general rule of thumb is a maximum of one unit of alcohol per hour. However, to be safer, if you are going to be driving, rather refrain from drinking any alcohol. Alcohol distorts a person’s judgment and perceptions as well as slows down reaction times.

“Society needs to have zero tolerance for people who drive under the influence of alcohol. My mother was driving home with my little boy from school in the middle of the day recently. They were nearly killed by an intoxicated motorist. Imagine having on your conscience that you almost or did kill somebody as a result of being intoxicated.”

Mild to moderate intoxication can impact on a person in a number of ways. It can lead to mild inco-ordination, nystagmus (fast involuntary movements of the eyes), ataxia (loss of full control of body movements) and slurred speech. A higher level of intoxication may lead to coma, respiratory depression and a drop in blood pressure.

Loud aggressive behaviour with the loss of inhibition may also occur as a result of alcohol consumption.

“If you are ever in doubt about the serious consequences of driving while under the influence, volunteer for a shift at your local EMS or police service,” said Dr Holgate.

Apart from witnessing how lives are torn apart, you will witness the difficulty paramedics experience when attending to an intoxicated patient. You will also experience the problems encountered by paramedics who try to attend to a patient in the company of an intoxicated uninjured person on scene.

Saul Behrmann, ER24 Johannesburg north branch manager, said gaining correct information from an intoxicated patient, such as how the incident happened, what they remember and contact details for family members who need to be informed of the patient’s injuries, is challenging.

It is also difficult to gain information from an intoxicated patient on their medical conditions as well as medication they are on.

“Assessing them is difficult as they repeat questions and comments. Some intoxicated patients want you to assist them and then they change their mind. Being intoxicated makes general assessment and treatment difficult.

“If an intoxicated person [uninjured] is on a scene and knows the patient, they hamper paramedics’ treatment to the patient. They want to get involved in what is going on. They sometimes threaten and push paramedics around as they ‘want the best treatment for patient’. While they do not understand what treatment is being provided to the patient by the paramedic, they do not believe that it is the best treatment.

“Paramedics obtain assistance from authorities to keep the area around the patient/s safe and to keep the intoxicated person away from the scene. Paramedics encounter intoxicated people who become aggressive towards them even though they see them, paramedics, trying to provide treatment,” said Behrmann.

People who consume alcohol should note that the rate at which a person becomes intoxicated varies.

“On average, it takes about one hour for the body to metabolise one unit of alcohol. However, this can vary based on body weight, sex, age, personal metabolic rate, recent food intake, the type and strength of the alcohol and medication taken,” said Dr Holgate.

She provided the following explanation:

• If a man and woman of the same weight were to drink the same amount of alcohol at the same rate, the woman would be more intoxicated than the man. This is due to gastric alcohol dehydrogenase concentration being significantly higher in men than in women. Gastric alcohol dehydrogenase is the enzyme that begins the break-down process of alcohol in the stomach. More alcohol makes its way to a woman’s small intestine for absorption. A woman’s blood alcohol concentration increases by about seven percent more that a man. Women have a naturally higher percentage of body fat than men. This results in them having a higher blood alcohol level than men.

• An older person often has a higher fat-to-muscle ratio and less body water. As a result, when compared to a younger person with the same weight who has had the same amount to drink, they may have a higher amount of alcohol in their blood.

• The use of illicit drugs and medication such as antihistamines, pain relievers and antidepressants in conjunction with alcohol can increase the effect of the alcohol consumed. Drinking alcohol while on illicit, over-the-counter and prescription drugs can lead to illness or death.

• Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach can affect a person more than if they were to eat before drinking liquor. The rate of alcohol absorption depends on how fast the stomach empties its contents into the intestines. Foods high in fat for example take longer to exit the stomach. If you eat before you consume alcohol, the alcohol will be absorbed slower than if you were to drink on an empty stomach.

• Alcohol may be metabolised more slowly if your liver function is impaired.

How do you calculate how many units of alcohol you have consumed?

Multiply the volume of the drink (in millilitres) by its percentage alcohol by volume and divide by 1000 to determine the number of units of alcohol in the drink you had.

For example:

•350 millilitres of beer at five percent volume would be calculated 350 x 5/1000 = 1.75 units.

•750 millilitres of wine at 12 percent volume would be calculated 750 x 12/1000 = 9.0 units.

Think before you drink.

ER24 can be contacted on 084 124 in case of any medical emergency. - Supplied.

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