Chapter 3: Alcohol and Drug Awareness
According to the CDC, alcohol is one of the most widely used drugs in the world. It is used by young people in the United States more often than tobacco or illicit drugs. Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with approximately 88,000 deaths per year.4 In 2015, 10,265 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes, accounting for approximately 29% of all traffic fatalities in the United States. There were 366 alcohol-related crash fatalities in Georgia, representing approximately 26% of all roadway fatalities for that year.5
Among youth, the use of alcohol and other drugs has been linked to unintentional injuries, physical fights, academic and occupational problems, and illegal behavior. Long-term alcohol misuse is associated with liver disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurological damage, as well as psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety, and antisocial personality disorder.
Since 1988, all states, including Georgia, prohibit the purchase of alcohol by youth under 21 years of age. Consequently, underage drinking is defined as consuming alcohol prior to the minimum legal drinking age of 21 years. Alcohol use among high school students decreased from 35% in 2013 to 33% in 2015. In 2015, 18% of high school students reported episodic heavy or binge drinking.6
Zero tolerance laws in all states make it illegal for youth under age 21 years of age to drive with a BAC of .02 or greater. In 2015, 8% of high school students reported driving a car or other vehicle during the past 30 days when they had been drinking alcohol. In addition, 20% of students reported riding in a car or other vehicle during the past 30 days driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol.6
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana remains the most abused illicit substance among youth, but adolescent marijuana use has not increased. Research data provided by the CDC shows the current use among high school students decreased from 23% in 2013 to 22% in 2015.6 Reports project that about 45% of teens will have tried marijuana by the time they graduate high school.7 Contrary to popular belief, marijuana can be addictive. As many as 1 in 6 teens who smoke marijuana develop an addiction. It also leads to the use of other drugs.
The physiological effects of marijuana are similar to those associated with alcohol. It impairs judgment and distorts perception which can weaken a person’s performance in school and/or at work. Driving under the influence of marijuana increases the risk of a traffic crash and the probability a fatality will result. Marijuana smoke deposits four times more tar in the lungs and contains up to 70% more cancer-causing substances than does tobacco smoke. It irritates the lungs which can cause the same breathing problems experienced by tobacco smokers (i.e. daily cough and phlegm production, frequent chest illnesses, lung infections, etc.) and raises the heart rate increasing the chance of a heart attack. In addition, marijuana can limit the body’s ability to fight off infection. Per NIDA, there is scientific evidence proving marijuana use can lead to a drop in IQ and negatively impact one’s functionality and well-being.
Among high school students, cocaine use decreased from 6% in 2013 to 5% 2015.6 Cocaine is a highly addictive substance that causes hallucinations, paranoia, aggression, insomnia, depression, and in some instances seizures, heart attack, respiratory failure, and even death.
According to the CDC, use of ecstasy (also known as MDMA) among high school students decreased from 7% in 2013 to 5% in 2015.6 Ecstasy can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate its temperature, which can cause dangerous overheating (hyperthermia.) This, in turn, can lead to serious heart, kidney, or liver problems, and even death.
Hallucinogens change the way the brain interprets time, reality, and its environment. This may result in the user hearing voices, seeing images, and feeling things that do not exist. The use of hallucinogens leads to increased heart rate and blood pressure and can also cause heart and lung failure. Hallucinogens may change the way the user feels emotionally. They may cause the user to feel confused, suspicious, and disoriented. Hallucinogenic drug use among high school students decreased from 7% in 2013 to 6% in 2015.6
Heroin enters the brain very quickly, making it highly addictive. It slows the thought process, reaction time, and memory, thereby affecting the way the user acts and makes decisions. Heroin abuse is associated with serious health conditions. Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, and liver or kidney disease. Pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health of the user as well as from heroin’s depressing effects on respiration. In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin often contains toxic contaminants or additives that can clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage to vital organs. Heroin use among high school students was steady at 2% from 2013 to 2015.8
Inhalants are substances or fumes from products such as glue or paint thinner that are sniffed or “huffed”, to cause an immediate high. Because it affects the brain with much greater speed and force than many other substances, the fumes can cause irreversible physical and mental damage before the user knows what has happened. Inhalants starve the body of oxygen and force the heart to beat irregularly and more rapidly. Users of inhalants can experience nausea and nosebleeds; develop liver, lung, and kidney problems; and lose their sense of hearing or smell. Chronic users can experience muscle wasting and reduced muscle tone and strength. Use of inhalants among high school students decreased from 9% in 2013 to 7% to 2015.8
Methamphetamines increase the body’s regulatory functions, including heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. Users experience dry mouth, increased sweating, dilated pupils, headaches, disorientation, severe depression, paranoia, fatigue, and, in some cases, hallucinations. Increased heart rate and blood pressure enhance the possibility of a stroke. Use of methamphetamines among high school students was steady at 3% from 2013 to 2015.8
Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs
While illicit drug use has declined among high school students, rates of non-medical use of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs remain high. Prescription medications most commonly abused by youth include pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and depressants. In 2015, 17% of high school students reported taking a prescription drug, such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Codeine, Adderall, Ritalin, or Xanax without a doctor’s prescription.8 Prescription and OTC medications are widely available, free or inexpensive, and falsely believed to be safer than illicit drugs. Misuse of prescription and OTC medications can cause serious health effects, addiction, and death.
Designer and Synthetic Drugs
Within the past couple of years, the State of Georgia has enacted strict laws targeting the sale and possession of designer and synthetic drugs, which have the same physiological effects on the body as other controlled substances. House Bills 199 and 1309 (2010) outlaw the sale and possession of “bath salts” and K2, a substance more commonly referred to as “synthetic marijuana,” and marketed as incense. Senate Bill 370 (2012) bans all forms of synthetic marijuana in the State of Georgia. In 2015, 9% of high school students reported using synthetic marijuana.
Drugs and Driving Privileges
In Georgia, pursuant to O.C.G.A. §40-5-75, the driver’s license of any person convicted of driving or being in actual physical control of any moving vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance or marijuana shall be suspended by operation of law.
Your driver’s license or driving privileges will be suspended for a period of 180 days. You will not be eligible for any type of limited driving permit.
Your driver’s license or driving privileges will be suspended for a minimum period of 3 years. Pursuant to House Bill 349 (2013), you may apply for reinstatement of your driver’s license by submitting proof of completion of a DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program after 1 year from the conviction date.
4. “Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016. Web. 15 July 2016.
5. Traffic Safety Facts 2010-2015 data: Alcohol-Impaired driving. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2015. Surveillance Summaries, June 10, 2016. MMWR 2015;65 (No. SS-6).
7. “Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know.” A Letter to Parents. National Institute on Drug Abuse, June 2016. Web. 15 July 2016.
8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2015. Surveillance Summaries, June 10, 2016. MMWR 2015;65 (No. SS-6).
Effects of BAC
The following chart contains some of the typical physiological effects people exhibit at various BAC levels and their predictable effects on driving ability:
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
Typical Physiological Effects
Predictable Effects on Driving Ability
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Frequently asked questions about Alcohol and its effects
Question: What is a standard drink in the United States?
Answer: A standard drink is equal to 13.7 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in
- 12-ounces of beer.
- 8-ounces of malt liquor.
- 5-ounces of wine.
- 1.5-ounces, or a “shot”, of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey).
Question: What about other medications or drugs?
Answer: Medications or drugs will not change your BAC. However, if you drink alcohol while taking certain medications, you may become more impaired, which can affect your ability to perform driving-related tasks.
Question: What is considered heavy drinking?
Answer: For men, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming an average of more than 2 drinks per day. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming an average of more than 1 drink per day.
Question: How do I know if I have a drinking problem?
Answer: Drinking is a problem if it causes trouble in your relationships, in school, in social activities, or in how you think and feel. If you are concerned that either you or someone in your family might have a drinking problem, consult your personal health care provider.
Question: Is it safe to drink alcohol and drive?
Answer: No. Alcohol use slows reaction time and impairs judgment and coordination, which are all skills needed to drive a car safely. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the impairment.
Question: Why do some people react differently to alcohol than others?
Answer: Individual reactions to alcohol vary, and are influenced by many factors; such as:
- Amount of food consumed before drinking.
- How quickly the alcohol was consumed.
- Use of drugs or prescription medicines.
- Family history of alcohol problems.