Holiday time is party time. But when the party’s over, everyone has to go home. And getting home safely can be a problem.
“This is a time when guzzling is socially acceptable and sometimes even expected,” Dr. David Sack, chief executive officer of Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu, California, told Healthline. “People who rarely drink join in, people who drink regularly consume more than usual, and those with a problem feel free to binge. Many of those people are in no condition to drive.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol use is responsible for about 88,000 deaths every year in the United States. Every day, 241 people die from traffic accidents and other causes related to alcohol.
Set Ground Rules
Anyone throwing or attending a party can take steps to reduce impaired driving, Sack said. It starts by setting ground rules.
“Nobody says you have to serve alcohol at a holiday party,” he said. “Make it clear that you are celebrating each other, not booze. And if you’ve been drinking, don’t come. It’s your party and you get to set the rules.”
A designated driver is a must. “Encourage guests to designate a driver who won’t imbibe and will get them home safely,” suggested Robert Vincent, a prevention expert at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Abuse Prevention.
Do your research before you have people over to head off issues before they arise.
“Some cities offer free cab rides home from holiday parties or free public transit. As a host, take the time to find out about those programs is before the party starts. Don’t set yourself up for a problem by having to scramble for help when somebody is already impaired,” said Vincent. “It’s not just alcohol. You have similar concerns any time someone is ingesting a mind-altering substance. And that includes prescription drugs.”
Set Rules for All Ages
It’s important to remember that young people attend holiday parties, too. Just because someone is old enough to drive doesn’t mean they are old enough to drink.
“Party hosts have to be responsible and know what is going on,” said Mary Elizabeth Elliott, vice president for Communications, Membership, and IT at Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA). “When you have young people at the party, make sure they have adult supervision. You need to be the best friend possible and help your friends get home safely after the party is over.”
There could also be legal issues, Elliott continued. CADCA says more than half of states have laws that hold party hosts responsible if guests are impaired and are involved in traffic accidents after the party. Opinion polls suggest that about one third of Americans believe it is okay for older teens to drink at parties, even though providing alcohol to a minor is illegal in all U.S. states.
“This is not the time to be enabling of dangerous behaviors,” Richard Choate, Chemical Dependency program supervisor at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, told Healthline. “There is a high percentage of people who drink responsibly. They may already have plans in case they have one too many. You have to be ready for the minority who didn’t think ahead. Just because you invited them to your party doesn’t mean you are giving them permission to cause an accident driving home.”
Be on the Lookout for Drugs, Too
The problem of impaired driving isn’t limited to alcohol. Prescription drugs, marijuana, street drugs, and combinations of drugs and alcohol may all lead to impaired driving. In Los Angeles, city police file more driving under the influence cases involving drugs other than alcohol than they do drunken driving cases, according to city attorney Mike Feuer.
“Traditionally, our office has focused on drunken driving,” Feuer said at a news conference in early December. “We’re expanding drug collection and aggressively enforcing all impaired driving laws.”
How to Reduce Impaired Driving
SAMHSA offers these party-planning tips to reduce the risk of impaired driving:
- Don’t make alcohol the main focus. Entertain guests with music, dancing, games, food, and lively conversation.
- Offer plenty of nonalcoholic drinks. One in three adults prefers nonalcoholic beverages.
- Provide plenty of high protein, high carb foods like cheese and meats to help slow the effects of alcohol. Skip salty foods, which make guests thirsty and more likely to drink.
- Require that guests choose designated drivers.