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A Toast to Drinking Responsibly

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What you need to know to enjoy holiday cheer safely.

By Jill Case

68-drinkinIt’s the holiday season, and everyone wants to eat, drink and be merry. We don’t want to put a damper on holiday fun, but there are a few things you should know about alcohol and how it affects you that will help you have a safe and healthy holiday.

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Body?

Drinking in moderation is usually not harmful, but the way alcohol affects people is a very individual thing. Your genetic makeup, your height and weight, your age, what medications you are taking—all of these things affect the way your body handles alcohol. Another important thing to understand is what defines a standard drink. The National Institutes of Health defines a standard drink as:

  • 12 fluid ounces of beer
  • 8 to 9 fluid ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 fluid ounces of table wine
  • 1.5 fluid ounces of hard liquor

The NIH says low-risk drinking for men would be no more than four drinks a day (and no more than 14 drinks per week), and no more than three drinks a day (seven per week) for women. Again, this is a general rule, but it varies with each individual. Most people recognize that alcohol affects the brain and coordination, but there are other serious long-term effects that occur with heavy long-term drinking, including heart damage, liver damage and disease, dangerous inflammation of the pancreas and increased risk for cancer of the liver, breast, mouth, esophagus and throat.

Binge Drinking

The Centers for Disease Control defines binge drinking as drinking five or more drinks for men (four or more for women) in approximately two hours. Binge drinkers are more likely to suffer from unintentional injuries like falls, drowning, burns and car accidents. Binge drinking is also associated with domestic violence, sexual assault and firearm injuries. When alcohol is enjoyed responsibly, in moderation, it’s safe for most people, but it’s important to know when enough is enough.

Drinking and Driving in Austin

The consequences for drunk driving go beyond getting a DWI ticket; you could also end up disabled due to an accident, or you could kill or injure other drivers, your passengers and yourself. ATX Man spoke with Detective Michael Jennings, the DWI coordinator for the Austin Police Department, for more information about drinking and driving in Austin. In 1998, the Austin Police Department created the DWI Enforcement Unit, a unit specifically devoted to DWI detention and enforcement. “Prevention is one of the biggest things we do,” Jennings says. “We’ve found that when we’re running no-refusal initiatives, our fatalities and our impaired driving crashes have drastically decreased.”

What Does No Refusal Mean?

“Basically, what a no-refusal initiative means is that by driving on the roadways in the state of Texas, you are deemed to be giving consent for a breath or blood sample when we ask for it—just by driving on the roadways, whether you have a license or not,” Jennings says. “That’s a statute in the transportation code here in Texas. If you’re stopped or arrested for [driving while intoxicated], we’re going to read you a full form after that arrest. You’re already deemed to have given consent by Texas statute, and at that time, the form is an opportunity for you to withdraw that consent. If someone does withdraw that consent, we classify that as a refusal, and his or her license suspensions and sanctions by the state will be heavier.”

During a no-refusal initiative, if someone refuses to provide a breath or blood sample, the officers use the information they gathered during the arrest and issue a search warrant for a blood sample. A judge will look at the warrant, and if the judge thinks there’s probable cause that someone is impaired or intoxicated, the search warrant is signed and executed for the driver’s blood sample. The Austin Police Department provides advanced notice before no-refusal initiatives, which are usually enforced eight or nine times a year, including this New Year’s Eve.

“We want you to have a good time when you come here to Austin, especially if you’re from someplace else. It’s not about us trying to prevent you from having a good time. We just need you to find a responsible ride home,” Jennings says. “All we ask is that you find some more responsible way home, whether it is a designated driver that actually does not drink or use some of those alternative transportation methods or stay downtown if you need to.”

“We understand that Austin has a drinking culture and is the Live Music Capital of the World. We have events almost every weekend, something that comes into town, and we don’t want to prevent that. It’s absolutely a great thing for us and our economy. We just want people to be responsible whenever they’re getting to and from wherever they’re going. As officers on the DWI unit, our families travel through town and live in town, and we want our families to be safe, just as well as yours, wherever they’re headed.”

If You Don’t Have a Designated Driver, Don’t Drive. Get a Ride!

You should always assign a designated driver or make plans in advance to take a taxi or limo service to and from your destination. However, if you haven’t made plans and you’ve had too much to drink, here are a few options:

Tipsy Tow. This is a service offered by AAA for members and nonmembers. They will tow your vehicle and give you a complimentary ride up to 10 miles away from the point of pickup on New Year’s Eve. Call 1.800.AAA.HELP (222.4357).

Call a cab, or connect with one of these services for a ride:

Use a designated-driver service. (There are changes for these services.):

  • ATX Designated Driver, 512.784.1012
  • Be My DD, 1.877.823.6933
  • Sober Monkeys, 512.808.9232
  • The Spare Driver, 512.650.0822

Drinking and Driving By the Numbers

  • According to the Texas Department of Transportation, in Texas, someone is killed or hurt in a car accident involving alcohol every 20 minutes. From Dec. 1, 2012, until Jan. 1, 2013, there were 78 fatalities in Texas.
  • Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) notes that Texas leads the nation in drunk-driving deaths, with 1,213 deaths in 2011.
  • In Texas, you may be arrested and charged with DWI if you have a blood- or breath-alcohol concentration of .08. That’s about four beers, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

According to the CDC:

  • Four in five people who drink and drive are men.
  • Eighty-five percent of drinking-and-driving episodes were reported by people who also reported binge drinking, which means drinking five or more drinks for men in approximately two hours.
  • Seventy percent of binge drinking involves adults ages 26 and older.
  • Binge drinkers are 14 times more likely to report alcohol-impaired driving than non-binge drinkers.

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